Hamden Passed Over for Preschool Spots

The state will fund an additional 500 perschool seats next year, but none will be in Hamden, despite local school officials pleas for help.

Editor's note: Supt. of Schools Fran Rabinowitz reports that there will be another round of funding for an additional 500 spots, and she is hopeful Hamden will be considered for some of that money.

Gov. Dannel Malloy's announcement earlier this year that the state would fund hundreds of additional preschool seats next year raised the hopes of Hamden school officials that the district would finally be able to provide the service to more of the town's low income students.

But school officials recently learned that wouldn't happen -- that Hamden would only get School Readiness funding for its existing 13 seats, despite having a need that far outpaces that number. Instead, that funding would go to "priority districts" that already receive the lions share of such funding.

Where Hamden Fits

Priority school districts are those districts the state Dept. of Education has deemed have the greatest academic need. They include Ansonia, Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Stamford, Waterbury and Windham.

While Hamden is not included in that list, parts of the town have an equally urgent need, especially those closest to New Haven, school officials say, which is why providing preschool seats is so important.

The town's 13 subsidized seats are split between Church Street and Helen Street schools, according to LuAnn Gallicchio, the district's Director of Adult and Early Childhood Education.

An Emphisis From the Top

Gov. Dannel Malloy has made preschool opportunities a priority in his school reform plan, establishing earlier this year an Early Childhood Office and pledging state funding for 1,000 preschool seats for low income students, and 500 for the upcoming school year.

To prepare for that, state education officials reached out to local school officials to get a tally of how many seats were needed, Gallicchio said, and Hamden officials determined that the district could accommodate 50 slots.

"As a border community to priority districts, many of the families in Hamden have significant financial challenges that prevent them from providing a quality preschool education for their children," Supt. of Schools Fran Rabinowitz said in a letter to Commissioner Stefan Pryor. "This is especially true for the families in the southern end of our town, where the free and reduced lunch rate approaches 80 percent. Only about half of these children attend pre-school, compared to 95 percent of children living in the northern section of Hamden."

Preschool opportunities has been one of Rabinowitz's priorities since she came to the district five years ago.

"If there is one thing that is incredibly close to my heart, it is preschool," she told the Legislative Council last week during the Board of Education's budget presentation. "If a student comes to school from a quality preschool, they are better prepared for us."

An expanded preschool program is part of the Ridge Hill School renovation project that includes space that could accommodate those additional 50 slots, she wrote to Pryor.

She also pointed out the inequities in state funding between municipalities.

"Last year, Hamden received $107,000 while West Haven received $1,633,794 – over 15 times Hamden’s allocation," she said. "This seems particularly inequitable, when coupled with the fact that Hamden has seen an 18 percent increase in students eligible for free and reduced lunch and a 60 percent increase in students needing English Language Learner services."

A Question of Money

While the town has many private preschool facilities in town, in addition to the seats at Helen Street and Church Street schools, as well as Alice Peck School, many families can't afford the cost, which can run hundreds of dollars a week.

The disparity is especially stark when comparing students in the town's schools, where 95 percent of West Woods School students attended preschool, compared to only 46 percent of Helen Street School students, Rabinowitz said.

"Those that can pay, will pay for it," she said. "It's the rest we have to get into preschool."

It was her hope that the Governor's program would provide more subsidized seats for those students, Rabinowitz said.

"We are incredibly disappointed" that the district did not get the 50 requested seat allotment, she said. "We have found out that they are going to the priority schools."

Rabinowitz said she has sent a letter to Malloy asking him to rethink that strategy, noting that New Haven gets 5,000 subsidized seats compared to Hamden's 13 seats.

Marty April 02, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Hamden is in a bad position -- it gets all the disadvantages from being located next to New Haven but none of the advantages. We get the crime but we don't get the money for the preschool funding. There is as much poverty in parts of southern Hamden as there is in New Haven and the state should recognize that.
Charles Baltayan April 02, 2012 at 06:28 PM
First, since when has pre-school become a necessity? My children when to pre-school, knew all their letters and numbers yet couldn't skip kindergarten to go to first grade at age 5 to avoid boredom as Hamden 'was not mandated to provide school at that age. One option would be to have the children who are not as proficient socially or academically as those that do attend preschool attend full-day and those that have will get the 'normal' 1/2 day. Second, instead of providing free preschool to those of disadvantaged and the un-employed why don't we organize and train the unemployed for conducting preschool, either in their homes or at some mutually convenient location? Spending wisely never seems to enter into the picture...just spending!
Mario April 04, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Charles, as states like Mass and NJ have proven, investing in good pre-school programs will pay off in the long term by increasing student proficiency and in turn help to reduce disruption in the classroom caused by frustrated learners. You always chime in about the need to reduce the number of administrators at the high school level, and when something comes along that will eventually help make that a reality, you complain about that too. You fight with yourself often.
Mario April 04, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Also, you have a really bad habit of always talking about when you were a studnt, or when your kids were students. Newsflash...times have changed. Just watch the news and follow some of the cases involving our youth.
Charles Baltayan April 04, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Mario: Hamden spends over $14,000/student/yr, higher than most our comparable cities and towns and still do not have stellar scores. Let's give everyone a nanny that speaks 3 languages and is a polo champion. Wouldn't that help, too? My ' chiming in' is that Hamden does not spend money wisely and sometimes 'old' school is the best school. If you don't use what you learn (historically by experience) mistakes and 'bad habits' get repeated. I am sure I am not alone in my constructive criticisms ofthe Hamden Education System,


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