OLD SAYBROOK — The Board of Education voted unanimously to authorize the superintendent to proceed with a phased-in approach to adding universal preschool for 4-year-olds in the Old Saybrook.
“We move very deliberately in this district,” said Jan Perruccio, superintendent of Old Saybrook schools. “It is a safe way to pilot this that allows us to expand this without stretching it so far that it runs the risk of failing.”
The phase-in will begin next school year, reducing preschool tuition from $4,300 to $3,450 for non-special education students, and increasing non-special education enrollment of 4-year-olds from 35 to 45 students. The projected cost for the program is $155,400.
Tuition will gradually decrease to $2,225, then $1,100, until all 4-year-olds, and potentially all 3-year-olds, will be able to attend preschool for free in 2022-23.
“We are only asking you to look at the first year, which is very much a pilot,” Perruccio said to the board before they voted. “We want to provide preschool to all 4-year-old children in Old Saybrook for free in three years, but we will only ask for one year at a time and come back to you with our progress.”
The preschool program would continue to be located at Goodwin Elementary, giving the students access to a school psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist, nurse and speech language pathologist if necessary.
“The sooner we get our hands on them, the more quickly we can get them ready for kindergarten,” said Heston Sutman, principal of Goodwin Elementary.
The expansion of preschool is part of a statewide trend – this school year both Lyme-Old Lyme and Westbrook School Districts added free universal preschool for 4-year-olds – but also reflects Old Saybrook’s changing demographics.
In the past three years Old Saybrook has seen a 11.1 percent increase in students receiving free and reduced lunch and a 1.83 percent increase in English Language Learners. Overall, 49 percent of Old Saybrook students are now defined as “at risk” by the State of Connecticut. For these students in particular, Sutman and Perruccio explained, research has shown early childhood education to be instrumental in their success.
“For every dollar invested in preschool, the savings in adulthood are between $6 and $9. Some of those savings come back to the district as special education and intervention dollars on expensive programming,” Perruccio said. “Students who attend quality preschool are more likely to perform well in school, graduate and go on to post-high school education.”
Although there are several private preschool options in Old Saybrook, Kathy Bai, director of pupil services, said the district is aware of a few students each year who enter kindergarten without any preschool due to the expense of these programs.
“With universal preschool we hope to target these kids that end up being at high risk in kindergarten,” Bai said.
The administration is planning on reaching out to preschool and daycare programs in the area to discuss the possibility of providing before and after school care for students as well as potentially summer care.
“We are concerned about the private preschool providers feeling like we are competition, we don’t want that to be the case,” Perruccio said. “We want to collaborate to provide the best opportunities for our students at the best price point.”
In the next few weeks the administration will be reaching out to parents in the town to gauge interest in the program. If there are close to 45 eligible students interested, the pilot program will launch in fall 2020.
“I love it, can’t wait,” said Board Chair Tara Barros.
At the Tuesday night meeting the school board also approved a $26,520,747 budget for the 2020-2021 school year to be brought to the town’s Board of Finance for approval.
Previously reported by CT Examiner