Pre-K Musical Chairs

Melissa Bailey PhotoTwenty new seats for pre-K students are set to open up in Fair Haven this month, then transfer to East Rock School next fall, according to a new plan to divvy up much-coveted spots seen as key to kids’ futures.

The reshuffling comes after St. Martin de Porres Academy closed its financially strapped pre-K on Aug. 31, leaving its funding up for grabs in other school readiness sites.

Sixteen of the spots went to the St. Aedan-St. Brendan Catholic School on Fountain Street to open one new classroom starting Sept. 1, according to Jennifer Heath, co-chair of the New Haven Early Childhood Council. After St. Martin de Porres closed its pre-K, the council was tasked with redistributing $300,456 in state money. St. Aedan’s is getting $96,000, according to Heath.

The remaining money will eventually go towards new pre-K spots at the East Rock Community Magnet School, which is set to move into a new building on Nash Street, according to schools spokesman Abbe Smith. East Rock currently serves grades K to 8 in a Hamden swing space; plans have long called for opening a new pre-K program when the school returns to Nash.

The school district considered opening a new pre-K class at Strong School and then relocating it to East Rock School when the students return to Nash Street in January, but decided against “uprooting kids and families and moving them to a new school mid-year,” said Smith. Instead, the spots will be transferred to East Rock school next fall, she said.

To take advantage of the state money this year, two school readiness sites plan to take on the new pre-K spots until East Rock is ready for them, Smith said. Bishop Woods School will add 14 full-day spots to its school readiness program this academic year, she said. And LULAC Head Start, Inc., will open a temporary new classroom at its James Street pre-K center beginning Oct. 15, according to executive director Magdalena Rosales-Alban. The new classroom will offer 20 full-day spots for kids of working families until next fall. The plan still needs approval from the Early Childhood Council.

LULAC, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, “was chosen because it has the space and a well-established program already in place,” Smith said. The agency serves 164 students at its site at 375 James St. in Fair Haven; the new classroom will bring that number to 184, Rosales-Alban said.

The agency aims to convert an extra room (pictured), currently used as a staff break room, into a new class for 3 to 5-year-olds. Seats at LULAC will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis: Families interested in enrolling can visit to the New Haven School Readiness Program office at 80 Hamilton St. or call (203) 946-6950, according to Smith. Families must live in New Haven; tuition runs on a sliding scale based on family income.

Families that score spots at LULAC this year won’t get an advantage when those spots transfer to East Rock School next fall, according to Smith.

Details about the East Rock—including the number of seats and whether they’ll be full- or half-day—remain to be decided, according to schools Chief Operating Officer Will Clark.

The new seats represent “a giant step forward in adding readiness slots,” Clark said. “We’re committed to having a pre-K presence at East Rock,” though the final shape that will take remains to be worked out.

The district will open up the seats through its annual registration process, which is being overhauled. Depending on how the East Rock pre-K seats are paid for, students who live in the East Rock School boundary may get an advantage. The boundaries may also be changed through the city’s redistricting process, which is still underway.

The arrangement is the latest solution to a perennial push to expand the city’s pre-K offerings. The city offers 1,967 school readiness spots, in addition to Head Start and magnet school seats—click here for a parent-run website explaining parents’ options.

The district had hoped to score funding for East Rock School when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last summer handed out 1,000 extra pre-K seats statewide. New Haven day cares and the school system applied for 151 spots, including 40 half-day spots at East Rock.

However, East Rock was not among the sites that won extra funding. New Haven won 53 total spots, mostly for community sites such as one run by Catholic Charities on Grand Avenue.

Parents in East Rock have been eagerly awaiting news on when they can enroll their kids at the new, light-filled building going up in their neighborhood.

Britt Anderson, a parent activist who’s been working on this issue at East Rock School, didn’t take issue with the fall start date.

“Any pre-K is great, and welcome,” she said.

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