Brunswick set to launch pre-K program in 2020

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BRUNSWICK — Backed by strong community support in a recent survey, the Brunswick School Department is making plans to launch its pre-kindergarten program in 2020 in a newly completed elementary school.

The town’s Recreation Department has run a fee-for-service pre-K program “for many years,” but this is the first time the schools would offer one at no charge, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said in an interview Nov. 15.

“We originally had a program ready to go back in 2010, but had no place to go,” he said. But now four classrooms are reserved at the Kate Furbish Elementary School – a 70,900-square-foot building on Jordan Avenue due to open in fall 2020 and house 660 students in pre-K through second grade.

In making recommendations to Perzanoski and Brunswick’s School Board for the framework of that program, such as how many pre-K students should be involved at the outset, a new pre-kindergarten committee will take into account data culled from a community survey held in September. Of the 189 respondents, 89 percent plan to enroll their children in pre-K, and 91 percent are interested in public pre-K.

The survey showed support for a more frequent program, with 70 percent showing little to no interest in two days a week, and 84 percent interested or very interested in five days a week. Three days a week received 66 percent interest.

Only 32 percent showed interest in a half-day afternoon program, while 52 percent were up for half-day morning classes, and 76 percent in a full-day endeavor.

Care provided before classes received interest from 58 percent of respondents,  while care provided after garnered 62 percent. Transportation to and from the school drew 63 percent.

The survey was intended “just to get that initial community input,” Steve Ciembroniewicz, principal of Brunswick’s Coffin Elementary School, explained. “Now we’re going to convene a committee … to look at the survey results.”

The pre-K committee will convene throughout next year, and ultimately make recommendations concerning structure, curriculum and staffing. Project funding would begin in fiscal year 2021.

Brunswick total class sizes tend to run between 170-190 students; Maine law does not require attendance until the age of 7, Perzanoski said. “We figure that for 4-year-olds, we wouldn’t get everybody, but we’d probably get the majority of them, so we’re planning for 120,” he noted, although the program might not launch with that many students.

The district looks to run two sessions of 15 children each in the school’s four pre-K classrooms to accommodate that number, said Steve Ciembroniewicz, principal of Brunswick’s Coffin Elementary School. The classrooms will have their own playground area, and each will have a teacher and an educational technician. The district looks to provide ample space for children with disabilities, and from economically disadvantaged families.

What a “full day” constitutes must be determined, Ciembroniewicz noted. “It’s a full day of programming, but is it necessarily a full day of pre-K programming,” he pondered, noting that state reimbursement for pre-K is based on half-day programs.

The committee will explore how the other half of the day could be filled. Barbara Gunn, Brunswick’s director of student services, said her department aims to have special education students be among their peers as much as possible, adding that “if they were able to do a pre-K half day, the therapies and some of the things that you do, you might be able to do the other half of the day.”

The other students could spend the rest of the day at places like the Learning Land Nursery School or participating in programs through the Recreational Department, The Landing YMCA, and Family Focus, Perzanoski suggested.

Neighboring School Administrative District 75 began its own pre-K program this fall, following voter approval in its fiscal year 2019 budget this spring.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Among those involved with launching pre-kindergarten in Brunswick’s school system are, from left, Student Services Director Barbara Gunn, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski and Coffin Elementary School Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.