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Beline Obeid

District to implement Great Start program


October 24, 2013
The Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education on Monday approved a $116,000 grant award in flowthrough funds from the Michigan Department of Education and Wayne RESA to implement the Great Start Readiness Program, an early childhood program for 4-year-old at-risk students.

Funding covers the cost of teachers and administrative fees, as well as preschool tuition for 16 students who qualify for the program.

For a student to qualify, he must have documentation of at least two existing risk factors of the eight identified according to the contract.

They include: a diagnosed disability or developmental delay, severe challenging behaviors, an English Language Learner, show signs of abuse or parental neglect, have a parent or guardian with a low education or have environmental risk factors.

Also according to the contract, 75 percent of students enrolled must come from low or extremely low income levels, where household income is at or below the 250-percent poverty level.

The district has 4-year-olds who meet this requirement, said superintendent Tom Harwood.

"As we look at preschool in general, it's in our best interest as we work with young children, our four year olds who may not have access to educational programming, to be able to make those connections, get them into our school buildings, to be able to facilitate their learning," Harwood said.

Poupard Elementary School is the likely destination for the program. But by adding Great Start, the district now has three early childhood programs, with options at Trombly Elementary School and Barnes Early Childhood Center and the Head Start program, also at Poupard.

The idea of three different programs concerned some board members.

"It does bother me somewhat that we will have at least three different programs for preschool-aged students that are operating within our buildings," board president Joan Dindoffer said of the different options, two of which — Head Start and Great Start — use the High Scope curriculum, a rigorous, child-centered approach to instruction. "I would hope that over time...that we'd be looking for ways to develop some consistency and best practices and so on. With that said, as the adage goes, one doesn't necessarily look at a gift horse in the mouth."

Great Start, developed from the Michigan Ready to Succeed Partnership, started in 1999. The partnership's goal was to ensure children enter kindergarten "ready to succeed" in school and in life.

Despite the existence of two other preschool programs, board treasurer Judy Gafa, unlike some of the others, sees the Great Start implementation as just that: another way to ensure children enter kindergarten in Grosse Pointe more prepared for success.

"I'm not too concerned that there's three different things offered in our district," she said. "I think we're maybe trying to meet the needs of our families. I think this is really good because it addresses, really, the people who are struggling economically the most in our district."

With Monday's approval, the program, Harwood said, is expected to start in January and run through the end of May. A deviation allowed the district to run a 20-week program as opposed to the contractually obligated 30 weeks.

In the meantime, the plan is to hire two ZA-endorsed teachers — or one teacher and a classroom assistant — in mid-November, allowing them time to prepare their classrooms and meet with parents and students.

The student-to-teacher ratio requirement is 8:1.

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