U-46 wants to create a method to audit its early learner programs
Elgin Area School District U-46 officials are planning to evaluate the district's early learner programs for the 2020-21 school year.
A lot of school districts are looking to evaluate their early learning strategies, policies and initiatives, but there aren't any auditing mechanisms out there, said Josh Carpenter, U-46 assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
"There is an industry gap," Carpenter told the U-46 school board Monday night.
Officials plan to partner with the University of Colorado's National P-3 Center in Denver to create an auditing tool to evaluate U-46's early learning programs.
The center has worked with school districts nationwide to evaluate their preschool programming, he added.
The designing and auditing process begins in March and runs through May 2021. The $50,000 cost for the audit will be shared by U-46 and the center.
Peggy Ondera, U-46 director of Early Learner Initiatives, said the state has ambitious goals for early learning. Its draft strategic plan calls for 80% of children having at least one year of high-quality early learning experience by 2023 and 70% having two years of experience.
U-46's existing early learner initiatives include the Parents as Teachers program, involving home-visiting services for families with children starting from birth to three years old. It is funded by a Prevention Initiative Early Childhood Block Grant of $855,000 yearly serving 150 children and families at the district's early education station near Larkin High School in Elgin.
Last fall, the program was awarded a Blue Ribbon Affiliate status, Ondera said.
The district has half-day preschool programs serving 3- and 4-year-olds at eight sites funded by separate grants totaling roughly $4.2 million yearly. A roughly $2.4 million yearly state Preschool Expansion Grant supports a full-day program serving 200 4-year-olds at two sites. U-46 also provides play-based full-day kindergarten at all elementary schools.
Ondera said a unique U-46 initiative is the Give Me Five community liaison who does outreach to families at back-to-school events, baby fests, preschool fairs at libraries, mobile food pantries, and to area child care facilities, sharing what it means to be kindergarten ready.
"That really helps families understand how they can be integral in their child's education before they ever get to kindergarten," Ondera said.
Among the tools used for outreach is the district's yearly "Getting Ready for Kindergarten" calendar given to all preschoolers, and offered at child care centers, public libraries and the district's Welcome Center.
U-46 works closely with the Alignment Collaborative for Education, Elgin Partnership for Early Learning and Gail Borden Public Library.
Officials also are engaging families where they might spend a lot of time -- Laundromats, parks, department of motor vehicles, restaurants, car dealership, Elgin Community College, pediatricians' offices -- providing reading materials, book baskets, and flip charts with learning activities.
"Places where children are waiting and might be considered unconventional, we are reaching out into those spaces to provide materials that support young children," Ondera said.