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Sunnyside School District to start pre-school program

Beginning with the 2006-07 school year, the Sunnyside School District will offer a limited pre-school program.

The school board made the decision following an appeal from a committee of elementary educators during Thursday night's meeting.

Noting that only 8 percent of entering kindergartners in Sunnyside are passing a first basic learning test, Outlook Principal Cathy Mears told the board that many students are entering the kindergarten program with low language skills.

That point was brought home by another elementary school educator who said that several kindergarten students enter the school system with the language skills of a two-year-old.

Mears also noted statistics from Governor Christine Gregoire's office that the district would save $8 in remedial education for every $1 it put into pre-kindergarten education.

"Right now we're putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, when we should be putting it at the top of the cliff before they fall," one educator said of the need for pre-school education.

The program as presented and approved last night will provide a pre-school classroom at each of the four elementary schools.

With 18 children per classroom, according to documents provided by the pre-school committee, that would allow for 72 children to be served by the pre-school.

The plan is to target children entering kindergarten who may be at risk for failing. Currently up to 10 percent of the 500 kindergartners in the district are held back each year.

The remaining slots in the pre-school will be filled via a lottery of age-eligible four-year-olds.

In making the motion to approve the pre-school, school board member Miguel Puente noted three provisions that he wanted addressed:

1. Increasing the number of classes so more students can be served.

2. Taking another look at the pre-school schedule, which is currently proposed to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

3. Revisiting the screening and lottery system. "I'm not sure I'm in favor of the lottery," he said. "It seems like it could be a way for already advanced kids to get an edge."

The budget for Sunnyside's pre-school will be just over $500,000, including staffing, materials and buses. About half of the funds will come from I-728 funds the district has available. The pre-school committee said it is also looking into other grant programs to fund and expand the program.

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