A free preschool education through the Morris School District and its partners is now accessible to hundreds of children.
The number of students receiving a free preschool education in the Morris School District will increase to 225 for academic year 2019-2020, thanks to a sizeable Preschool Education Expansion Aid grant from the State of NJ totalling $2.9 million—the largest awarded in Morris County. Over the next several years, the grant is expected to allow as many as 500 children a year to attend preschool free of charge. Those seats will be filled by three- and four-year-olds at the Lafayette Learning Center (LLC) and its partner preschools in Morristown, which have developed a close collaboration. This working “consortium” of local preschools includes the Head Start Community Program of Morris County, with classrooms at their Morristown Center as well as at the District’s own Alfred Vail School; the Cornerstone: Neighborhood House; and several YMCA-affiliated programs like the Blake Center, Children on the Green, and the Children’s Corner.
LLC Principal Karen Andre asserts that an investment in children’s learning during the preschool years pays enormous societal dividends later on, a claim supported by extensive educational and public policy research. “Preschool education boosts children’s language, cognitive and social skills, academic ability, mastery of routines, listening, concentration, following directions, as well as their self-esteem and self-confidence. It changes their trajectory.” Dr. Andre, who received her Doctorate in Special Education from Rutgers University, notes a particular advantage for students at preschools like the LLC and its partners, where a “whole child” approach involves holistic attention to language and literacy as well as to social-emotional learning and physical development. All teachers are fully certified, having been through rigorous training in early childhood education; most are dual certified in both general and special education.
Through its established partnerships, the Morris School District will coordinate and oversee the preschool expansion, ensuring that each program in the consortium delivers an “extremely high quality, standards-based preschool education that leverages shared resources in professional development, intervention, and community/family involvement,” explained Dr. Andre. All partner preschools will follow the same curriculum and receive the same curriculum training, and master teacher coaches will support preschool faculty in curriculum implementation and classroom management. A new counseling position created through the grant, the Community and Parent Involvement Specialist, will work closely with families to foster strong home and school relationships, offer parenting strategies and workshops to support student learning and well-being, and provide comprehensive outreach services.
Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast expressed his gratitude and praise for the concerted effort of LLC and MSD administrators and the partner site directors who were responsible for procuring the state grant. Said Mr. Pendergrast, “The significance of exceptional learning experiences at the earliest ages is unquestionable, and we see clear evidence of ongoing student success for those children who continue in our district. To be able to provide this kind of opportunity for so many more children is a tremendous accomplishment, and it would not have been possible without the dedication, commitment, and collaboration of Karen Andre, our community preschool partners and our central office team. The expansion of preschool education will have a far-reaching impact on the lives of district families and on our community as a whole."