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U-46 seeks audit tool for early learning initiatives


By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 is planning to create an auditing tool to evaluate its early learner programs.
  Josh Carpenter, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said there’s “an industry gap” with no auditing tool currently available for early learner programs during a presentation to the Board of Education in February. The district plans to work with the National P-3 Center, preschool to third grade, at the University of Colorado-Denver with completion of the tool by May of 2021.
  The project will include two phases, the first to design the tool and then revisions and the second is using the tool along with reviews and reports being created.
  The cost is expected to be around $50,000 shared with the National P-3 Center with U-46’s cost “not to exceed $24,999,” according to Peggy Ondera, director of early learner initiatives. Anything over $25,000 requires a board vote.
  Ondera said the National P-3 Center is “very interested in creating this tool that has uses across the nation,” meaning it could sell the tool to other districts.
  The project was discussed during an overall update of early learner initiatives as the district described the government school system’s desires to control a child’s education from birth.
  “Given that we know that early childhood education is so important to children’s success in school, we really wanted to think about what are those organizational structures and policies that will best support our earliest learners,” Ondera said. She said the state’s vision is “every child is healthy, happy, safe, ready to succeed and eager to learn with a focus on closing the achievement gaps and serving our most vulnerable students.”
  The federal grant awarded to Illinois was expanded in 2015 according to Ondera who said it had a goal of 65 percent of students have one year, 40 percent at least two years and 10 percent five full years of “quality early learning services” before entering kindergarten, which generally starts at five years old.
  “We didn’t necessarily meet that and that has been updated by the state,” Ondera said adding that the goal is 80 percent of children with one year and 70 percent two years by 2023 which “that again is a little bit of a stretch goal.”
  U-46 has a program, Parents as Teachers (PAT), in which district representatives make home visits to parents with children from birth to three years old. It is funded by an $855,000 annual grant to make home visits for 150 children.
  PAT staff includes eight full-time parent educators, one part-time parent educator, a secretary and a supervisor.
  Asked to elaborate by Sue Kerr, the board’s president, and board member Melissa Owens, Ondera said they make “weekly or bimonthly visit where it’s typically done in the home” which they encourage families to take part in but it is voluntary. Board member John Devereux asked if the district has enough resources, Ondera said U-46 does partner with other programs but “we are under serving families.”
  U-46 has a half-day preschool program funded primarily through a $4.3 million state grant and a full-day preschool program with two-way transportation funded by a $2.4 million state grant.
  Ondera said that 1,000 screenings are conducted annually, 600 to 700 conferences regarding specialized student services are done and 30 children transition at three years old from state services to U-46 programs as the district determines eligibility for early learner programs.

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