Jan. 1, 2013. The pre-kindergarten program of the Watauga County Schools – a program that usually has a long waiting list – now has a total of 14 spaces available for the rest of the current school year.
“We encourage parents of four year olds that may be eligible for the program to apply for a space right away,” said WCS Director of Elementary Education Tamara Stamey. “This is a very high quality service and we are certain there are more children in Watauga County who would benefit from attending the program.”
The pre-kindergarten program is open to children who were four years old on or before August 31, 2012 if they meet eligibility criteria set by the NC General Assembly. The criteria consist of specific educational risk factors such as low household income, limited English proficiency, or learning disabilities. In past years, local school systems could serve both at-risk and not at-risk children in the program but the General Assembly removed that flexibility last year.
The 14 spaces now available include 10 at Mabel, two at Bethel, and one each at Cove Creek and Valle Crucis. Although eligible children who reside in each school’s attendance area receive priority for spaces at that school, children from anywhere in Watauga County can enroll in the program if the available spaces are not filled from within the school’s attendance area. School bus transportation is available only for children who live in the school attendance area. Parents will need to provide their own transportation if their child attends a school outside the attendance area of their residence. These parents will also want to note that children who attend pre-kindergarten in a school outside their attendance area will still have to attend kindergarten at the school that is in their attendance area.
Applications for the pre-kindergarten program are available online from the Parent Links page of the WCS website (www.watauga.k12.nc.us). Applications are also available on request from Renee Battle at the WCS Board of Education, 175 Pioneer Trail (828 264-7190). Questions about the program may be referred to Mrs. Battle or to Tamara Stamey, also at 828 264-7190.
The surprising turn of events from a waiting list to open spaces in pre-kindergarten resulted from the combination of two factors. The first factor is that additional spaces for the program were made possible late last year when an unexpected infusion of additional NC Pre-K funds was announced by Governor Bev Perdue. The second factor is that many parents with children on the waiting list last fall made other arrangements for childcare by the time the additional Pre-K funding was announced. When offered the opportunity to enroll their four year old in the pre-kindergarten program in December, some of these parents chose to leave their child in their current setting.
The additional state funding for NC Pre-K programs came from $20 million originally budgeted for the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The additional funds are expected to serve another 6,300 children statewide, including 36 children in Watauga County.
The WCS pre-kindergarten program now has spaces for 135 children in eight classrooms at seven schools for the remainder of this school year but there is no assurance the program will be maintained at this level next year. The size of the program for the 2013-14 school year will be determined by budget decisions to be made in the spring, especially decisions at the state level about funding for public education.
“I think everyone involved with education at any level hopes the General Assembly and Governor-elect Pat McCrory will increase funding for pre-k classes next year,” said Stamey. “Expanding high-quality early childhood education is probably the single most valuable investment we can make to strengthen our educational system and increase student success.”