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Deciding to adopt the universal pre-Kindergarten program

Cost projected to be roughly $800,000; district to hold two more meetings in Hewlett


At the first of three community discussions on creating a tuition-free, full-day universal pre-kindergarten program the Hewlett-Woodmere School District, residents voiced their opinions and asked questions at Hewlett High School on Feb. 16.

Universal pre-K is a New York state grant-funded program for children who are four years old on or before Dec. 1 or otherwise able to attend kindergarten the following school year. Districts must apply for the grant each year and funding varies for all districts.

At Hewlett-Woodmere’s Franklin Early Childhood Center (FECC), which encompasses pre-K, kindergarten and first grade, there are two options for students: pre-kindergarten and the PLUS program. Parents provide transportation for both. The pre-K program is supported by the state and the school district; it consists of five half-days per week. The PLUS program is a tuition-based full school day; scholarships are available.

There are currently 472 students at FECC, 99 of which are enrolled in pre-K for the current school year, and 67 percent of those students attend the full-day program.

“Do we want to put that [universal pre-K] into the budget for next year without raising taxes for one year?” Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino Jr., asked at the community discussion.

He explained that the idea of universal pre-K in the district has been considered within the last three to four years. He said that the Board of Education is taking a closer look at it this year and holding community discussions for a few reasons. There is a small pre-K class this year, a current projection of low enrollment for next year, four more available classrooms and a budget surplus.

“If it’s not broken, why fix it?” Woodmere resident Jessica Alfieri said, in reference to the current options available to parents in the district. She has lived in the district for nearly 30 years. She said she paid for both of her daughters to attend a full day of pre-K and recognizes its importance. But, she added that she does not think that the district has to make the full day free.

FECC Principal Lorraine Smyth presented the results of a study that compared 17 half-day students and 17 full-day students at the school. Smyth said that one of the criterions for the district to receive the universal pre-K grant is a student assessment.

The students’ literacy, math and social skills were assessed throughout the school year. In all three areas of study, students in the full-day program performed better than students attending school for a half-day. “Research shows that there’s more opportunity in a full day,” Smyth said, “children have the time that they need in a full day.”

North Woodmere resident Rachel Neubia said, “I personally feel that the benefits will greatly outweigh any of the fears of the unknown,” in reference to universal pre-K. She thinks it is important for the community to take a “step forward” for future generations.

Gregory Mariasch, of Hewlett Neck, said he plans to do some more research on the potential impact of universal pre-K on property values in the district. “I think there were good arguments on both sides,” he said.

The next two community discussions will be held on Feb. 27 and March 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hewlett High School auditorium at 60 Everit Ave. in Hewlett. Comments or questions regarding this issue can be sent to hwupk@hewlett-woodmere.net.

To view the district’s universal pre-K presentation go to hewlett-woodmere.net.