This week the Branford Board of Finance for Branford schools – was a 3.1 percent increase. The , not to exceed the recommendation of $50,835,804, will include more than $100,000 appropriated to fund public pre-k for 50 students at Branford’s two Title 1 elementary schools. The total of what public pre-k will cost is not black and white stated in presenting his budget, noting that teachers salary structure could alter the cost of pre-k.
currently offers public pre-k for 30 students total in two sessions – morning and afternoon. The cost of Murphy’s program is currently $84,000 and includes the salaries of teacher and aid Judy Cotter.
The recommended BOE budget, still to be adopted in May by the Branford Representative Town Meeting, includes an additional $42,000 to fund an additional pre-k program for students of the school district.
Last week Patch ran a weekly , which asked the community to name their favorite pre-school in town; won with . In the comments section of the poll, asked if would also have pre-k in the coming school year. Hernandez clarified when presenting his budget to the Board of Finance, that the pre-k offerings would only be made available to residents of the Title One school districts in the 2012-13 school year leaving Tisko students out for now.
However, in their presented budget, Hernandez details that expanding early learning opportunities is a priority of the BOE. Positioning the district for universal pre-k in the future is explicitly stated as well in the budget.
At his presentation to the Board of Finance last week, Hernandez included slides of reading progress for those students who have attended Murphy pre-k (see PDF). When measured against Branford first graders who had no pre-k prior to kindergarten, 82.6 percent of Murphy pre-k attendees preformed at/above proficiency where only 43.8 percent achieved the same marks with no pre-k. Seventy-five percent of students who had some pre-k prior to coming to Murphy preformed at/above proficiency.
Kate Marsland, co-president of the commended Hernandez for providing data to the BOF to back up the BOE investment in early education.
“The pattern we see in these kids, consistent with all of the research showing a return on investment of quality good education, is consistent with the research that also shows how vital this type of investment can be in closing the achievement gap,” Marsland explained.
“We see from the data that is available from the state department of education, 80 percent of Branford children do receive some form of early care or pre-school experience but that varies at all our schools.”
At Murphy, the amount of kindergarten students who have received some form of pre-k, prior to arriving at school, is lower than the town average at 76 percent, detailed Marsland. Further, she noted that 18 percent of Murphy students are scoring at a level 1 on the kindergarten entrance inventory, which is a tool to assess how ready the children are for kindergarten. Scoring at a level 1, Marsland explained, means children are not able to hold a book and turn pages from front to back, explore books independently, recognize printed letters and demonstrate emergent writing skills without significant support.
The low results, despite the entrance inventory being an admittedly inadequate measure, “suggests that a large portion of our students are not entering our kindergartens adequately prepared to benefit from the tremendous education opportunities that our district provides,” said Marsland.
Jennifer Pepe has two children at Murphy School – one currently enrolled in the public pre-k class with Mulcahey and the other a first grader who did not attend Murphy pre-k.
“Just comparing it to Rachel’s experience [first grader], as far as curriculum-driven pre-k goes, I feel Murphy has been better,” said Pepe.
“I can see now with Christina [pre-k student at Murphy] that she’s learning more of what’s needed and expected of her to go into kindergarten,” said Pepe.
Pepe’s daughter Rachel, now in first grade at Murphy, attended Tabor Pre-School prior to kindergarten. “Her personality just blossomed,” at Tabor, Pepe said. “It prepared her more as a person.”
Losing out on some of the benefits of Tabor like doing daily dramatic plays and singing, Pepe said is a comprise she makes to see her youngest daughter, Christina, excel more academically. “I am more confident,” she said, “with Christina going into kindergarten because she is familiar with the classroom setting at Murphy.” Pepe said her youngest is also more familiar with using a computer and learning in an academic environment.
Having the benefit of the public school curriculum is priceless for Pepe, she said also noting that the free cost of public pre-k is a huge benefit as well. Having no pre-school tuition to pay “is a beautiful thing,” she added.
For now, Pepe is the envy of most parents as there are more than 200 students enrolling in Branford kindergarten every year and only 50 spots for public pre-k.
Currently pre-k at Murphy and Sliney is offered applicants on a needs basis to start; left over spots are filled based on a lottery. For more details on enrolling students in pre-k or kindergarten check out the school website.