Pre-K, ECFE, talent testing concerns aired at St. Paul school board listening session

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“We were fooled,” said one parent at the April 24 St. Paul school board listening session. She was speaking to school district representatives about the Pre-K program, which has 100 students on the waiting list. Officials expect 600 students will be on the list by the time school opens in the fall. 

SPPS’s Pre-K programs are actually designed to serve students who are bi-lingual, high poverty, and/or considered eligible for special education, according to Jackie Turner, executive director for the Office of Family Engagement and Community Partnerships. “It’s not designed for students who have other opportunities outside of the home,” said Turner.

“The district has to get more marketing out there to communicate that [Pre-K programming] is not for the average Joe kid,” the parent said.

St. Paul parents and residents had gathered for the listening session at Dayton’s Bluff Elementary School to share their questions, concerns and suggestions with SPPS school board representatives. In attendance for the school board were Board Director Anne Carroll, Board Treasurer Keith Hardy, and SPPS district Executive Director for the Office of Family Engagement and Community Partnerships Jackie Turner.

Main points of the discussion centered on three services: Pre-Kindergarten, Early Child Family Education, and Talent Development and Acceleration Services.

Lack of Pre-K placements

Said a retired teacher, “If there is such a need [for the Pre-K program], why isn’t it more of a priority in the budget?”

District officials cited space limitations. “We would need another 30 classrooms to meet the demand,” said Turner. She also pointed out that there are a handful of schools that don’t have the demographics for Pre-K programming and may house their own programs that are not managed by the district—such as Montessori schools.

Turner added that the Pre-K programs can boast an 87 percent preparation rate of preschool learners for kindergarten. 

“This program has to grow. I’m a taxpayer. I’ll pay more money if that’s what it takes,” said the retired teacher.

Another St. Paul resident in attendance had a suggestion to address the issue of space: “What about portables?” Turner responded that “[portables] are not always a good sell for the neighborhood.” The resident offered to work with others to make the portables look nice if they are a viable solution that would satisfy neighbors.

Meanwhile, another parent said she has to find alternative programming for her 4-year-old. “I missed out on everything other than [those programs] I’m not interested in,” she said.

ECFE on the East Side…No Space or No Equity

Another community member asked about the lack of Early Child Family Education (ECFE) sites on the East Side. She questioned whether it is a looming equity issue in terms of competition with the number of sites in West St. Paul. “Classes at John H. Johnson are full and transportation to other locations is problematic,” she said.

The resident also emphasized the importance of these programs. “The parents who are involved tend to be ECFE parents,” she said.

St. Paul ECFE representative Donald Sysyn acknowledged this claim while praising the agency’s work. “Our programming impacts parenting styles,” he said. ECFE programs in St. Paul currently serve 3000 families at 11 different programming sites.

Talent Development and Acceleration Services, new assessment tool replace Gifted and Talented services

One parent whose kindergartener attends Phalen Lake Elementary asked if the CogAT7 assessment is developmentally appropriate for kindergarten.

The CogAT7 assessment is being used in response to complaints from parents and community members about Gifted and Talented (GT) services being concentrated only in certain schools. The CogAT7 is given to every kindergartener and second grader annually unless they’ve been previously assessed. Nominated students in grades 1-5 are also eligible. At SPPS, Talent Development and Acceleration Services (TDAS) has replaced GT services.

The same parent asked if the “test [would] create racially-based results.”

Turner said the purpose of the assessment is neutral. Information on the SPPS website says that part of the district’s goal and the purpose of TDAS “is to provide an equitable opportunity for students across gender, ethnicity, cultural, socioeconomic and linguistic backgrounds to have access to challenging academic curriculum and to develop the talent that each student brings to school each day.”

CORRECTION 5/6/2013: A quote that was incorrectly transcribed has been removed.