The second largest public school system in Massachusetts is expanding early childhood education through what officials say is a unique partnership with the private sector.
A new free preschool in Springfield is currently enrolling eligible 4-year-old children for classes that will start next month. There are approximately 300 openings in the Springfield Cooperative Preschool, which is being run collaboratively by the public schools, Head Start, the Square One organization, and the YMCA of Greater Springfield.
Springfield Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick was joined by Mayor Domenic Sarno and officials from the private organizations at a news conference Tuesday to announce the new preschool.
" We know in the inner cities where you have high poverty rates early childhood education is not a nice add-on,it is absolutely critical," said Warwick.
Formal education for children before they enter kindergarten has been recognized by researchers as essential to helping children master reading skills. Proficiency in reading, especially by the third grade, is seen as a bellwether for long- term educational success. The Springfield schools have struggled with low third-grade English test scores.
Warwick said the initiative with the three private nonprofits is a first for prekindergarten education in Massachusetts.
" This is not just providing daycare service, it is about providing quality education so our kids will be reading at grade level and more importantly graduate college and career ready," said Warwick.
Massachusetts education officials will be in Springfield next month to announce a multiyear $14- million grant award to the city’s public schools to expand early childhood education. The budget for the new cooperative preschool is funded in part from the grant and from private funding sources, according to school department officials.
The new preschool is housed in the former Early Childhood Center in the inner city Mason Square neighborhood. After the privately-run daycare provider went out of business, the city bought the building last year for $2.8 million.
Joan Kagen, President and CEO of Square One, said the new preschool will offer children a literacy-rich classroom environment.
" It is going to be a very intensive program for 4-year-olds to get them really ready for kindergarten," she said.
Sally Fuller, who directs a children’s literacy initiative in Springfield supported by the philanthropic Davis Foundation, estimates that half the city’s children do not have access to a high quality preschool program.
" This is a powerful model that is happening here in Springfield," she said of the new school.
To qualify for the Springfield Cooperative Preschool, children must be 4-years-old by September 1st and cannot have previously attended preschool or formal childcare. The family income must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four that is $48,500 annually.