Opinion

Preschool at Chautauqua: Prinicipal sets the record straight

There have been many questions raised about Chautauqua’s preschool program. As a parent of a 4-year-old who attended this program for the past two years, I can honestly say that I am honored to be a part of it, both as parent and principal. The following is my attempt at providing a brief overview of the program, including how students are being served, the district’s obligations for providing a preschool program and where we go from here.

Chautauqua has offered a preschool program to 2- (P2), 3- (P3) and 4-(P4) year-olds for many years. This school year, there are 24 students registered. Eleven of them are students with IFPs (Individual Family Plans) who have been identified through the ChildFind program (more on that later). One of the preschool’s goals is to have a 50/50 mix between students with IFPs and typically developing peers. This model is founded on research that demonstrates special needs students respond well when they are able to model typically developing behaviors.

Vashon Island School District (VISD) receives some funding for the IFP students’ enrollment, and the typically developing peers pay tuition for their participation.

ChildFind is a federal program that helps locate, identify and refer children with special needs as early as possible.Vashon’s ChildFind representative is Kate Packard, the VISD nurse, who works with Island doctors and early childhood advocates to find children who fit the criteria. Packard is responsible for advertising ChildFind. She distributes informational fliers for posting at all medical clinics, health practitioner’s offices, the public health nurse’s office and several other locations. In addition, Island doctors and advocates are well acquainted with the program. The most common manner for children to be referred is through their family practitioner or a community health nurse. As of May, there were no children in the P2 range that had been identified or referred to ChildFind.

While Vashon Island School District is not obligated by law to offer an early intervention class for 2-year-olds, we recognize that giving these children a head start will benefit them, their families and their peers in the long run. However, it would have been irresponsible of the district to offer a class when no children had been identified. In fact, most sources of state and federal funding for preschool cannot be used to serve children younger than 3. If there are 2-year-olds with special needs identified in the future, the district will consider offering the class again.

Chautauqua’s preschool program was expanded six years ago to include more and younger children with special needs. This is a good milestone for a program review and assessment. There will be a task force created to begin looking at the program. Some of the questions that might be considered by this task force include: What is our preschool philosophy based on the district’s educational vision? What is the most effective way to prepare children with special needs for K-12 on Vashon?

To ensure that our students are self-motivated, constant learners with enduring knowledge, skills and values for leading responsible, productive lives, it’s important that each of our programs maps to the overarching goals of the district’s strategic plan. The preschool plan is no exception.

Thank you for taking the time to read my humble submission. I believe that change is an opportunity. We have an opportunity before us, and I hope our dialogue will lead to programming that continues to support the needs of all of our children. I believe that Vashon Island School District is committed to early intervention and understand the positive effect this can have.

— Kate Baehr is the principal of Chautauqua Elementary School

and mother of Ben Nixon.

There have been many questions raised about Chautauqua’s preschool program. As a parent of a 4-year-old who attended this program for the past two years, I can honestly say that I am honored to be a part of it, both as parent and principal. The following is my attempt at providing a brief overview of the program, including how students are being served, the district’s obligations for providing a preschool program and where we go from here.

Chautauqua has offered a preschool program to 2- (P2), 3- (P3) and 4-(P4) year-olds for many years. This school year, there are 24 students registered. Eleven of them are students with IFPs (Individual Family Plans) who have been identified through the ChildFind program (more on that later). One of the preschool’s goals is to have a 50/50 mix between students with IFPs and typically developing peers. This model is founded on research that demonstrates special needs students respond well when they are able to model typically developing behaviors.

Vashon Island School District (VISD) receives some funding for the IFP students’ enrollment, and the typically developing peers pay tuition for their participation.

ChildFind is a federal program that helps locate, identify and refer children with special needs as early as possible.Vashon’s ChildFind representative is Kate Packard, the VISD nurse, who works with Island doctors and early childhood advocates to find children who fit the criteria. Packard is responsible for advertising ChildFind. She distributes informational fliers for posting at all medical clinics, health practitioner’s offices, the public health nurse’s office and several other locations. In addition, Island doctors and advocates are well acquainted with the program. The most common manner for children to be referred is through their family practitioner or a community health nurse. As of May, there were no children in the P2 range that had been identified or referred to ChildFind.

While Vashon Island School District is not obligated by law to offer an early intervention class for 2-year-olds, we recognize that giving these children a head start will benefit them, their families and their peers in the long run. However, it would have been irresponsible of the district to offer a class when no children had been identified. In fact, most sources of state and federal funding for preschool cannot be used to serve children younger than 3. If there are 2-year-olds with special needs identified in the future, the district will consider offering the class again.

Chautauqua’s preschool program was expanded six years ago to include more and younger children with special needs. This is a good milestone for a program review and assessment. There will be a task force created to begin looking at the program. Some of the questions that might be considered by this task force include: What is our preschool philosophy based on the district’s educational vision? What is the most effective way to prepare children with special needs for K-12 on Vashon?

To ensure that our students are self-motivated, constant learners with enduring knowledge, skills and values for leading responsible, productive lives, it’s important that each of our programs maps to the overarching goals of the district’s strategic plan. The preschool plan is no exception.

Thank you for taking the time to read my humble submission. I believe that change is an opportunity. We have an opportunity before us, and I hope our dialogue will lead to programming that continues to support the needs of all of our children. I believe that Vashon Island School District is committed to early intervention and understand the positive effect this can have.

— Kate Baehr is the principal of Chautauqua Elementary School

and mother of Ben Nixon.

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