Roaring Fork parents could soon have more early childhood education options

Darian Armer
Special to the Post Independent

A wider variety of early childhood education options could soon be available to Roaring Fork School District parents.

The RFSD Board of Education heard district employees’ strategic plan to revamp early childhood education this coming fall, with plans to create full- day, full-week and full-year options for working families, offer sliding scale tuition, prioritize professional development, and create a pipeline of early childhood education professionals.

Anna Cole, Roaring Fork School District’s chief of student and family services, presented to the board regarding the district’s plan under Colorado’s new universal preschool offerings.

“Anticipating universal preschool, we felt like we needed to solidify our identity as an early childhood district. We’re anticipating as the ground underneath us shifts,” she told the board.

The district hired a consultant in fall 2021 to walk the district through a stakeholder and community informed process to settle on a guiding question: “How might we ensure that all families have access to high quality, affordable, culturally and linguistically appropriate early childhood education that prepares students for kindergarten and beyond?”

Currently, the district has five early childhood centers with the potential to serve an additional 75 PreK students and eight toddler students. To do so, it would need at least 14 new providers. The district currently serve 25 toddlers (ages 1 to 3) and 193 PreK students (ages 3 to 5).

Four major points of the strategic roadmap include accessibility, quality, equity and inclusion and sustainability. When it comes to accessibility, the district plans to offer sliding scale tuition in a pilot program based on the staff housing sliding scale model for district faculty and staff. This includes assessing current funding sources and developing sources of philanthropic support.

Cole said the district intends to create full day, week and year options for working families by starting with one or two pilot programs, testing alternative staffing models such as staggered shifts, and potentially leveraging volunteers to help expand capacity.

When it comes to quality, Cole said the district would continue to focus on achieving the highest possible Colorado Shines ratings for all programs. She said the district plans to invest in staffing and professional development, as well as increase ECE curricular and programmatic alignment across RFSD programs (PreK through second grade). Cole said they also plan to create parent and caregiver education opportunities across the district and with community providers.

The strategic plan calls for a strengthening of special education and mental health support, through professional development and leveraged support available through the Colorado Department of Health Services for ECE mental health support. The plan also calls for strengthening culturally responsive teaching and enhancing dual language instruction.

As for sustaining the early childhood education program, Cole said the district plans to create new teacher pipelines through various ways. Ideas include offering scholarships for credentialing programs, creating fellowship/internship opportunities in partnership with local and regional organizations, create salary steps aligned with levels of certification and education, provide stipends for continuing education, and build connections with FFN networks to recruit new teachers.

Next steps for the plan include building an ECE calendar that more closely aligns with the K-12 schedule, and building a simplified daily calendar and simplified enrollment options with a lengthened “extended care” option. The district plans to build and implement a centralized ECE tuition system and implement a staffing plan with the goal to open at least one more preschool classroom in every ECE center.

The standard day program for PreK is 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. The extended day program would be offered for both PreK and toddlers with an extended day from 7:15 a.m.–5:15 p.m. Monday through Friday.

During April, RFSD is hosting site-based enrollment days at its early childhood centers. Cole said they had about 25 families show up to the most recent enrollment day.

“The majority were Spanish-speaking families. We felt good about who we were bringing in and who we are helping access our programs,” Cole said. “Families can stop by our preschools on a Wednesday in April for an ECE open house. They can meet with staff, talk with other ECE programs and go through the application process.”

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