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First universal pre-K awaits voter approval of budget

Once the Royalton-Hartland School Board has a 2007-08 budget to work with, district officials will move forward with plans to set up the district's first universal prekindergarten program.

Residents will vote on the proposed $23.1 million budget May 15.

"Once we have a budget in place, we'll get things ready to begin the [pre-K] screening process," School Superintendent Paul J. Bona said last week. Parents will be able to sign their children up for one of the four half-day pre-K classes the district plans to start in September.

The program -- for children who turn 4 by Dec. 1 -- will offer two morning classes and two afternoon classes that overall can serve up to 72 children.

Bona said an increase in state aid has enabled the district to consider adding the pre-K program, something he said the district has wanted to do for some time.

"It's important because it offers early intervention which is the key to long-term student success," Bona said. "There's no question that by getting young children familiar with school, they get the preparation they need" to do well in kindergarten and beyond.

The Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services used to fill that preschool void, he said, but that program has been "abandoned," and now "we need to do it."

Royalton-Hartland Elementary School in Gasport will house the pre-K classrooms.

"We've been having this discussion since I came here five years ago," Principal Andrew M. Auer said. "I think the principal that was here before me did a lot of legwork on it, but it has been left on the drawing table for lack of funding."

Royalton-Hartland has been strapped with tight budgets for a number of years, with little room to add new programs such as prekindergarten.

"It's always been in our plans, but it seems . . . with Gov. [Eliot L.] Spitzer's [support] of pre-K, that we're getting the state funding to implement it," Auer said.

Auer said the pre-K concept is simple: exposing children to a school setting and familiarizing them with terminology used in school. It also provides them with a preliminary understanding of letters, shapes, colors and the like, he said, and it gets them used to working with other children and solving problems through play scenarios.

"Any time you can get students into a school environment early, you give them a head start," he said. "You are looking academically, socially and emotionally to get them ready for the environment they'll be coming into when they are 5 years old."

With ever-rising state standards and the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law, Auer said, it is more important than ever for pupils to get a leg up on school.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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