DANIEL CLIFTON • EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — Marble Falls pre-kindergarten teachers and Marble Falls Independent School District Director of Elementary Education Leslie Baty found themselves facing a tough situation. The state of Texas recently revised the 10 guidelines for pre-K programs in public schools, giving a bump to academic standards and readiness.
This meant the teachers would likely have to cut back the amount of time they spent on things such as helping kids develop their gross and fine motor skills (very necessary for their development) and other needs in order to focus on the higher academic demands.
“We only had a half day in our pre-K classes, so the teachers felt something had to give to get in everything the state was asking,” Baty said.
For the past four years, MFISD only offered a half-day of pre-kindergarten because that’s just about all the state would fund.
Earlier this year, though, the school district began looking at the viability of moving into a full-day pre-K program, even if it meant digging within MFISD coffers to make it happen.
“This school board and the superintendent (Chris Allen) are really committed to the kids, and they saw the importance of early childhood education,” Baty said. “They wanted to make full-day pre-K happen.”
As the district began to delve into the possibility, MFISD officials also became aware of a state grant to help fund full-day pre-K for students who also qualified for the free and reduced lunch program. The district applied and got the grant, though it doesn’t cover the complete cost of the full-day program.
“But the school board and Dr. Allen, they decided they’d find the rest of the money in the budget,” Baty said.
So starting in the 2016-17 academic year, the district’s pre-kindergarten program moves to a full day, giving teachers and students a better chance at tackling the enhanced guidelines while still covering other developmentally appropriate skills and lessons.
“This is really a big development for us,” Baty added. “There’s a lot of research that shows how important early childhood education is.”
One report by the National Institute of Early Education Research states that 85 percent of a child’s intellect, personality and skills are formed by the time they are 5 years old.
“That shows how important programs like pre-K are for the kids,” Baty said. “The more time teachers have with the kids, the better prepared they are when they get into kindergarten and elementary school.”
While the pre-K program is free to qualified students, the district is also, for the first time, offering pre-K classes to non-qualified students for a tuition of $400 per month. The tuition-based enrollment depends on space and availability.
The district is also partnering up with the two Head Start programs — one at Marble Falls Elementary School and the other at Highland Lakes Elementary School — to support 3-year-old students. Baty said the district will provide two certified teachers who can help the Head Start program with its academics.
“The more kids we reach at a younger age, the better it is for them,” she said. “Now, a child in that track (Head Start and then MFISD pre-K) could be in a full two years of school before kindergarten. Those kids will be more ready for school and will have such a great chance at being successful in school. ”
Go to marblefallsisd.org to learn more about the full-day pre-K program and how to register. In Texas, pre-K is a voluntary program.