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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Preschool program proposed

Early childhood education for Ely 3-year-old students

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/11/22

ELY –ISD 696 will likely implement a new three-year-old preschool program for the 2022-23 school year.According to Interim Superintendent John Klarich, K-5 Principal Anne Oelke introduced the …

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Preschool program proposed

Early childhood education for Ely 3-year-old students


ELY –ISD 696 will likely implement a new three-year-old preschool program for the 2022-23 school year.
According to Interim Superintendent John Klarich, K-5 Principal Anne Oelke introduced the idea at recent school administrative meetings.
“I think it is a tremendous program,” he said. “She is kind of the brainchild behind this.”
Oelke introduced Mary Mattson, early childhood family education (ECFE) coordinator, and Kristi Marshall, school readiness coordinator, as big contributors to the proposal.
“The three of us work a lot together on early childhood, and how we can keep expanding our programs,” she said.
About five years ago, the Ely early childhood education program was expanded to add additional services to local families.
“Now as we look at our census for the three-year-old program coming up next year, there is a large group of three-year-olds, which is a good problem to have,” Oelke said. “However, our Happy Days (preschool) is changing their programming quite a bit, and we are gearing up that there might not be enough places for three-year-olds in the Head Start program. We crunched all the numbers and want to offer this program to our families.”
The proposal presented to the board indicated the program would be supported by the Minnesota Early Childhood Indicators of Progress, focusing on eight areas of learning: social/emotional; approaches to learning; language literacy and communication; the arts; mathematics; science; social systems; and physical and movement development.
Oelke said funding for the program will include the use of some Minnesota Taconite Tax revenue specifically earmarked for early childhood education.
“A couple of years ago they said a portion of this had to be used for early childhood programs,” she said. “We have not done that in the last fiscal year or this fiscal year, and we have a little bit of a surplus. That means this new program won’t come out of the general fund at all.”
The remaining revenue from the Taconite Tax fund is $14,678. She put potential revenue from student costs of between $25 and $65 per student, per month, based on family income, at between $2,400 and $6,240.
“We will be able to do it for sure this year,” Oelke noted, “And we’ll have a better handle on how many families we have and what the fee scale will be for our families. It is kind of a no-brainer to do it this year for sure as it won’t cost our general fund anything, so this will be a good way to try it out.”
The program would run three days per week, Tuesday through Thursday, from 9 -11 a.m., from October to May for 88 days total. The teacher would work 356 hours at $37.59 per hour. An assistant would work 264 hours at $14 per hour.
“We will be using the same (early childhood education) space and the same materials,” Oelke said. “We will not be providing transportation quite yet, but may in the future. This is a minimal (investment) with a huge reward.”
Board member Rochelle Sjoberg praised the initiative.
“The earlier you can have that continuity with students, the better off the transition is going to be,” she said.
“We are creating quite the little early childhood wing in our elementary building,” Oelke added. “We’ll have Head Start over there starting next year. Our lower level will pretty much be all early childhood now, which is pretty cool. I think it will attract more families.”
Klarich added, “This is a forgotten thing. When I was growing up, you were lucky to get Kindergarten. And now we are expanding to three-year-olds. That’s fantastic. That’s unbelievable. They will reap the benefits over their entire academic career because they got a start at three years old. This will be a feather in our hat.”
Board chair Ray Marsnik said that data indicates the benefits of early childhood education.
“These programs can pay for themselves because we save a lot of money on special education as these kids move into Kindergarten and beyond. This is a no-brainer.”
Board members are expected to vote on implementing the program at their next meeting.
Other business
In other business, the board:
• Approved modifying the 2021-22 school calendar, making Wednesday, June 1 the last day of school, rather than Thursday, June 2, due to the continuing school building renovation and building project.
• Hired Mary Fleetwood as School Age Extended School Year Program teacher for June, July and August.
• Hired Jacki Talbert, Dena Carey and LeaRae Richards as School Age Extended School Year Program paraprofessionals for June, July and August.
• Hired Megan Wognum and Andrea Thomas as Summer Skills teachers for June, July and August.
• Hired Stacy Hegfors as Summer Skills paraprofessional for June, July and August.
• Extended Heidi Omerza as full-time long-term third grade teacher until June 3.
• Accepted the resignation of Kelly Noble as assistant volleyball coach, effective immediately.


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