With funds and guidelines for raising early education competency and readiness for Seattle kids in-hand, the Seattle Preschool Program and Department of Education and Early Learning have teamed up with Seattle Parks to renovate a portion of the Miller Community Center and contract a high-quality provider to operate a preschool inside.
City representatives and Launch preschool officials welcomed a small handful of parents with their soon to be preschoolers on Tuesday for a short ribbon-cutting ceremony at Miller Annex Preschool. Launch, a Seattle nonprofit provider of before and after school programs, won the two-year proposal bid for the space in 2017.
“There’s a good balance of light,” said Brad Miller, principal architect of the new preschool facility.
Miller stood Tuesday inside the second school on Miller Park grounds his firm designed. Miller Hiyashi Architects renovated an open floor plan into four adjoining east facing classrooms and facilities.
“We took out the solid walls so the kids could see the landscape and the teachers could see into another classroom,” said Miller whose firm has designed several early education structures including the modern redesign of Meany Middle School just across from the 19th Ave community center. “That made a good transition for us because we were already working next door,” he said.
Additional supporting spaces including a kitchen, laundry, offices, storage, child and staff bathrooms and an adjoining enclosed playground for the preschoolers.
The final cost of the preschool was $1.9 million from the $8.5 million the city set aside to fund the four-year pilot preschool program. The early education budget was carved out of a total $58 million property tax levy, approved in 2014 for improvements in the city’s K-6 education.
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According to Launch executive director Brianne Jackson, seven families have enrolled so far but there is still time to join the first Miller preschool class. The school can accommodate 80 students, twenty per classroom. Launch will officially open the classroom “as soon as possible,” says teacher Sharon Pearce.
Spouse to a former military service member, Pearce has lived and taught early education in several states. “This is what I would have wanted in every other program I’ve ever worked at. They talk the talk and they walk the walk,” she said.
Launch, formerly known as Community Day School Association, has provided early education program and curriculum development since 1977.
The early childhood education subsidy stipulates a higher education profile for teachers and provider management and, through short-term leasing agreements, can terminate participation of any provider who fails to comply with desired learning and enrollment outcomes.
Preschool teachers and providers are generally not beholden to the same requirements of teachers in the Seattle Public School system. The standards of education and experience for preschool teachers is determined by the provider, however the Seattle Preschool Program governing schools formed by levy money requires provider contracted teachers possess a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or any bachelor’s degree, teaching certificate and an P-3 Endorsement. Current teachers with Launch who are not yet in compliance have four years to meet credential standards.
Background checks are performed for all staff members and faculty and, according to Jackson, “quite a few teachers were able to go back to school and achieve the new requirements with funding from the Seattle Preschool program.”
In accordance with Seattle Preschool program mandates, Launch accepts enrollment on a sliding scale for this, its 11th location. Tuition is calculated by the city and parents pay directly to the city. Some subsidies for individual families are available through DSHS within Working Connections Child Care, a statewide program. Teacher pay is also standardized and measured by experience and education, much like the Seattle Public Schools salary calculator.
The first session at Miller Annex Preschool will begin as soon as next week and run through the summer to meet the regular school year — September to June. The center will operate on weekdays from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM with “wrap around” child care services during early morning and evening hours. The number of operating classrooms will be determined by enrollment until December 2019 when their lease will be reviewed. The operating agreement is in the final negotiation phase, but LAUNCH is set to pay for and manage utilities and maintenance in addition to monthly rent between $4,000 and $6,000 per month.
Department of Education and Learning senior policy advisor Cameron Clark was on the committee responsible for choosing between four proposals from providers to run the school. “LAUNCH is a very high-quality provider but what distinguished them how they were able to say how they would utilize the community campus, be involved with other community organizations and use the partnerships with the community,” Clark said.
According to a study conducted by Rutgers University and the University of Washington to measure the effectiveness of the 2015 Early Start Act mandates, year two of the four-year pilot shows the Seattle Preschool program “has improved quality while expanding in size,” with areas of improvements including “increasing the amount of rich content, increasing integration across content areas, reducing transition time, and supporting metacognition in settings that provide high levels of individualization and choice.”
One estimate calculated that only 40% of three to four-year-old children in Washington attended preschool.
Seattle Parks and Recreation operates 26 community centers across the city. in 2016, the department issued a Community Center Strategic Plan recommending Miller Community Center open for longer hours to meet community demand.
Launch has summer programs in addition to the regular school year such as the “Leap Ahead” session for children who will enter kindergarten this fall.
Parent Colin Brunton brought his three-year-old Jamie to check out his new school. “it looks super nice,” says Brunton. “it worked out well because the school year was beginning at the same time as mine.”
You can learn more about the new preschool — and enrollment — at www.seattle.gov/applyspp.