By Johnny Jackson
The Preschool Study Group, commissioned by Henry County Schools Superintendent Michael Surma earlier this year, has returned an eight-page "executive summary" that addresses the availability of preschool services in the county.
"This report from the Preschool Study Group is a first step in creating momentum for increasing the quantity and quality of preschool services in Henry County Schools and our community," said Philip Mellor, Henry's special education department executive director and chairman of the Preschool Study Group.
Mellor said the 19-member group -- co-chaired by Sandra Moore, Henry's federal programs coordinator -- was comprised of local and state educators and education officials, as well as business representatives, and representatives from the Henry County Police Department and Henry County Chamber of Commerce.
The three-month study, released this week, revealed that only half of the students who enter kindergarten in the school system have had the opportunity to participate in Georgia's Bright from the State Pre-K Program, a lottery-funded preschool program.
The study noted that only one in ten incoming kindergartners needing special education services -- because of a disability -- have already received those services in preschool. And students taking part in federally funded Head Start Programs, represent a fraction of those eligible for the preschool services.
Mellor said kindergarten readiness was a component of the study, which included a survey of kindergartners at a local elementary school. The survey measured overall student readiness, based on students' performance on a exam called the Kindergarten Diagnostic Placement Assessment.
The results indicated that only 37 percent of kindergartners, who did not receive preschool services, were considered "kindergarten ready," while more than 80 percent of kindergartners, who attended some form of preschool, were kindergarten ready.
"There is some energy and excitement about what Henry County can do to get kids ready for kindergarten," said Mellor, noting that there is a growing waiting list for existing preschool programs.
Erik Charles, a member of the Henry County Board of Education and part of the Preschool Study Group, said the results of the survey point to a need that can be filled within the school system as classroom space is available. He said there are roughly 40 classrooms currently available at elementary schools throughout Henry County that could be used as space for private-and publicly-funded preschool programs.
"The wheel has already been created," Charles said. "There are other counties already doing what we're attempting to do, such as Bibb County and DeKalb County."
The school board member said he believes improving student achievement in Henry County will result in an improved quality of living, in education as well as economically.
"If you want to have an economic impact on your community, you have to have that foundation," he said. "If we plan to go to a 100 percent [high school] graduation rate, we have to take care of the foundation. The foundation begins from birth to 3 years old.
Mellor said the school system will likely implement some form of a pilot program next school year that will facilitate Pre-K, or preschool, program services where space is available. "The data is pretty clear that when a child shows up for kindergarten without preschool experience, he stands a 1- in-3 chance of being successful," Mellor said.
"We're going to increase our data collection with incoming kindergartners, and collaborating with interagencies and community resources to improve preschool services in Henry County."
Mellor added that parents interested in finding out whether their toddler is kindergarten ready, can find a down-loadable copy of the diagnostic test through the Henry County School System's Eboard web site, by linking to the Board of Education Meetings Study Session, dated Sept. 8, 2010.
On the net:
Henry County Schools: www.henry.k12.ga.us