Currently only about 35% of preschool-age children attend a program. The district is pursing funding.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - At the Jefferson County 509-J School Board meeting Feb. 10, students from Buff Elementary and Bridges High School received Student Spotlight Awards. Timothy Currier, Addison Skaar, Avery Utz, Alessandra Palacios, Samuel Wilson, Piper Christensen, Julian Yellowtail, Roman Barrara-Vargas, Kekoa Gibons, Delilah Manteiga, Michael Ashley and Tyler Mewes received awards for the highest reading growth from fall to winter, presented by Buff Elementary Principal Billie White.The Jefferson County 509-J School Board was presented with information about the possibility of including preschool classes in the upcoming school year using funding available through the Student Success Act, as well as the possibility of funding from other sources.

At the board meeting on Feb. 10, the need for preschool slots within the district was explained – only about 35% of preschool-age children within the 509-J school district actually attend preschool due to a lack of availability.

The district hopes to secure funding to hire staff to run two or three preschool classrooms. The idea, in the very early stages of discussion, is to have the classrooms at the high school where, along with meeting a need for preschool education in the county, the high school itself might add a CTE pathway for Early Childhood Development.

The idea would be to hire two adults for each of the classes, one certified staff and one support staff. The Student Success Act has funds that are essentially earmarked for preschool education, and the district has a plan to request money from that fund.

Melinda Boyle, curriculum director for the district, presented the information to the board and said the district has been participating in planning locally as well as through the Early Learning Hub in conjunction with High Desert Education Service District.

"There is not enough space in Jefferson County right now available to provide the slots we want," she said. However, the proposed idea for some new classes would certainly help.

Within the SSA, "for a school system, we are eligible for the Preschool Promise," Boyle said.

That piece of the SSA is $3.8 million annually throughout the state of Oregon.

"We are proposing to add two to three -- we haven't decided because for us it depends on space -- preschool classrooms and it has to open this fall," Boyle said.

"The location we are looking at is at Madras High School, in conjunction with our teen parent program that is already there, and we already have someone there that has preschool experience to help us coordinate this and launch it," she said.

"But again," she said, "we have to apply for those grant funds, just like the Student Success, so it's another application process."

Depending on how the program is structured, students might have the opportunity to take dual-enrolled classes at MHS and Central Oregon Community College studying early childhood education and then go straight into a four-year program to get their teaching degree later.

With a shortage of teachers coming out of schools across the state, it would serve as a way to get students started down the path to teach and perhaps come back to teach in the district they graduated from, she said.

It is also a way, according to Boyle, to try to get former students coming back to the district so that the teaching staff represents the student demographics in the school district.

"This is very, very, very, (much) a draft," she said about the program.

However, it is already in the works as a program, and course descriptions are being written.

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