Your View: Centralized pre-K centers will help ease ACPS capacity worries

Your View: Centralized pre-K centers will help ease ACPS capacity worries

By Ramee Gentry, Member, Alexandria City School Board (File photo)

To the editor:
Last year, a joint effort by Alexandria City Public Schools and the City of Alexandria resulted in the creation of a Long Range Educational Facilities Plan. The goal of this plan was to “develop recommendations to improve facilities planning and accommodate the growing student population in order to support and enhance the delivery of educational programs and services in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible.”

We see many of the recommendations from this plan in the proposed capital and operating budgets for ACPS, including the request for funding for a West End elementary school and swing space to accommodate students while major renovations or replacement projects occur at existing school sites.

The plan acknowledged the important role that pre-K education plays in our city, and recommended that ‘discussions between the city and ACPS should continue regarding the delivery of pre-K instruction. Programs housed in neighborhood schools and centralized locations impact future educational facilities and capacity.

ACPS does not currently offer universal pre-K, but both ACPS and the city recognize the value of early childhood education, and have provided classrooms as funding and space have allowed. As a result, at some of our elementary school buildings, early childhood education is provided either through a state funded grant by the Virginia Preschool Initiative or through a federally funded grant such as Head Start.

Currently there are more than 30 classrooms in ACPS that are housing these programs. Over the years, as enrollment at our elementary schools has increased, classrooms that were originally designed to house the early education programs have been transferred to K-5 classrooms. ACPS is committed to supporting our partners providing early education, but is also mandated to address our capacity needs, which are projected to increase over the next decade. In an effort to achieve both goals, the ACPS budgets call for the creation of two pre-K centers, with the first to open in 2017 and an additional center to open in 2022.

These pre-K centers will allow the existing programs to continue as they are currently implemented, with the only significant change to be location. The plan also calls for transportation to be provided for all students attending these centers. The proposed timeline calls for the West End pre-K center to open in the fall of 2017, moving 20 pre-k classrooms out of our elementary schools into the new center. This timeline allows the next 18 months to be a period of planning between ACPS and our early education partners to ensure a smooth transition that maintains and builds on the existing quality of these early education programs.

This timeline also aligns with our current plan to have redistricting boundary changes implemented in the fall of 2017. Repurposing 20 classrooms in our elementary school buildings by fall 2017 helps address our capacity crisis. It will reduce the need for redistricting boundary adjustments, while still preserving early education offerings to our community. City council and the Alexandria City School Board adopted the long range facilities plan as a roadmap to guide our joint efforts to serve our community’s children. Funding for the pre-K centers is just one of the many tools that can help us achieve our goals.