More pre-K spots may open as GCSD secures $800K grant

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff 

Victory Riedy, founder of Victory Child Care, left, rented space in a Guilderland school in 2016 when the district had unused classrooms; it no longer has extra space for pre-kindergarten classes.

GUILDERLAND — The school district here took a long shot and nevertheless hit its target, securing $800,000 for preschool classes this fall.

The federal funds are distributed by the State Education Department, which has awarded $34 million in Universal Prekindergarten Expansion Grants to 64 school districts across New York.

The program is free for children who will be 4 years old next year but places have been limited.

Superintendent Marie Wiles says the hope is the added funds will increase the number of places available so that families who were disappointed in lottery results may still have a chance of their children attending.

“This is a game changer for our partners,” she said of the preschools the district works with, “and for our community.”

The four programs that have currently partnered with the district are:

All Saints Catholic Academy at 10 Rosemont St. in Albany;

Christ the King Early Childhood Center at 20 Sumter Ave. in Guilderland;

Lynnwood Reformed Church Preschool, run by the YMCA, at 3714 Carman Road in Guilderland; and

St. Madeleine Sophie School at 3510 Carman Road in Guilderland.

The federal funds will be ongoing from year to year “as long as nothing changes,” said Wiles, noting it is a presidential election year.

In announcing the 64 districts that received grants, the State Education Department said they were awarded based upon a district’s plan to serve a community’s highest need schools and students; the level of existing pre-kindergarten services; the extent to which a district planned to maximize the total number of eligible 4-year-old children served in its programs; and other factors.

Wiles has spoken before of the need for the state to make selection for the limited spaces dependent on income but currently anyone who lives in the district with a child the right age has an equally random chance in the lottery.

Guilderland had 160 students register for prekindergarten in the upcoming school year and placed 112, as of this week, for next year. 

Guilderland’s preschool registration was in March and no new registration will open, said Rachel Anderson, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Guilderland does not have space for preschool classes in its schools and so, since it unexpectedly received state funds for prekindergarten several years ago, has relied on preschools in the area to educate the children.

The problem has been that the per-pupil rate of funding from the state, at $5,400, was so low, preschools had trouble accommodating the students.

The new funding is much higher — at $7,000 per student in a class with an uncertified teacher and at $10,000 per student with a certified teacher — making it more workable for the preschools, Wiles said.

“Maybe we can entice the schools to take on more,” she said. “The $5,400 just wasn’t cutting it,”

Since the allocations were announced, Anderson, who wrote the grant application, sought clarity from the State Education Department on whether the new $800,000 in funds would “supplement” or “supplant” the original funding at the lower rates.

She learned that the new money could be used first.

Wiles said that means Guilderland will be using even less of its original funds, which totaled $1,479,600 for the 2024-25 school year.

Asked what the solution might be to include more preschoolers whose parents are eager to have them participate, Wiles said, “Everyone is struggling with this mightily.” Neighboring districts, just like Guilderland, are also struggling with the lack of staff and space for the pre-kindergarten program.

During the recent school board elections, incumbent Blanca Gonzalez-Parker, who was re-elected, said the district doesn’t have the space to house pre-kindergarten classes and, rather than relying, as currently, on church and other programs, Guilderland should “formulate some sort of cooperative with other schools in the area,” as Superintendent Wiles had suggested.

“I think we’re going to have to help each other because we can’t afford to build right now,” she said.

The other two winning candidates, Tara Molloy-Grocki and Nina Kaplan, are both teachers.

During an Enterprise candidates’ forum, Kaplan said, “I absolutely understand the benefits that students have from having pre-K. The students that are economically disadvantaged, unfortunately, come into our buildings without having the very basic psychological, social, emotional, fine motor skills, gross motor skills that kids need to be successful.”

As a second-grade teacher, Molloy-Grocki said, she could easily tell which kids had been to preschool “with the cutting and coloring and just all that fine motor [skill]; the social interaction, too, is just so important.”

She said she would love to advocate with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to work across districts.

“Rachel and I thought it was a complete long shot,” Wiles concluded of getting the grant. “Many of our colleagues in the area didn’t apply.”

Anderson called Guilderland’s wait list for the program ”substantial,” noting that it includes two-thirds of the students who applied.

A “best-case scenario,” Anderson said, would be having Guilderland able to offer 80 seats at $10,000 each.

“We will likely use the entire $800,000 grant,” said Wiles.

“We’re doing everything in our power, trying to serve a community need,” concluded Anderson.

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