Edina School Board makes changes to early childhood education

Sean Plemmons
Edina Community Editor
Edina School Board chair Leny Wallen-Friedman listens to Sarah Burgess as she spoke on behalf of the Edina Early Childhood Family Education Parent Teacher Organization. (Sun Current staff photo by Sean Plemmons)
Edina School Board chair Leny Wallen-Friedman listens to Sarah Burgess as she spoke on behalf of the Edina Early Childhood Family Education Parent Teacher Organization. (Sun Current staff photo by Sean Plemmons)

Despite strong support against cuts to early childhood programming from the Edina Early Childhood Family Education Parent Teacher Organization, the Edina School Board voted unanimously to make modifications to the district’s program for its youngest students at the Feb. 22 school board meeting.

The board voted to reduce some of the programs offered, while working to expand others in the coming months. The biggest cuts came from the birth to 33 month program. The 0-33 month childcare services that are currently offered will end in fall 2016. This includes the block time parents have come to know. There will also be cuts to the 2-year-old “Book Buddies” program, which will end after summer 2016.

However, the district will work with state legislators to preserve and enhance the two-day, 2-year-old program. The current program entails one day of parent and child education and one day of independent child education.

The district’s reasoning behind the cuts comes from its decision to refocus its entire early childhood education to better prepare students for school. The district began a program study in fall 2013, and recommendations were originally given in December 2015. But, due to strong support from the Early Childhood Family Education PTO urging against the proposed birth to 33 month childcare services, the district stepped back to allow more input from parents.

The district held two sessions to hear concerns and work with parents to find a solution for birth to 33-month childcare, but it ultimately stuck with its original recommendation for the cuts to block time.

School Boardmember Sarah Patzloff, a former Early Childhood Family Education PTO member, said she used the childcare programs when she had young children, but understood the need for the district to refocus and reallocate its resources.

“It’s tough to eliminate block time,” Patzloff said. “I know it’s also hard to find drop-in childcare for children under 18-months.”

But Patzloff also added that she hopes the district will continue to work and expand the two-day 2-year-old program.

The district will also enhance the current 3- to 5-year-old program by expanding preschool and school readiness offerings. There will be expanded hours for the 4-year-old preschool program during 2016-2017, and there will be a pilot all-day 4-year-old program in the same school year.

The district will also make changes to the facilities used for early childhood education programs to help increase school readiness and safety for children.

The district has to work with regulations put together by the Minnesota Department of Education and the Department of Human Services. Because the district wants to align itself more with the Minnesota Department of Education’s guidelines, it eliminated birth to 33-month childcare, which had Department of Human Services oversight.

The Early Childhood Family Education PTO wrote a letter to the board voicing their disappointment prior to the Feb. 22 meeting, and Sarah Burgess also spoke at the meeting on the PTO’s behalf. In her comments, she said the PTO was disappointed they were not consulted further in the district’s decisions and recommendation on the elimination of block time childcare. She said the lack of communication was a “missed opportunity” and troubling when making decisions of such magnitude.

Superintendent Ric Dressen said continuing the early childcare programs would put a limit to district resources in preparing to get students “school ready.”

The district will continue to work towards tweaking and rearranging its birth to grade 5 early childhood programming in the next few months.

Contact Sean Plemmons at [email protected] or follow the Sun Current on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent