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District plans to add pre-K programs

Profile image for By Britney Tabor
By Britney Tabor

The Denton school district plans to expand prekindergarten to four more elementary schools this fall.

Lee, Newton Rayzor, Rivera and W.S. Ryan are expected to join five other schools next month in offering pre-K programs to 3- and 4-year-olds if the schools draw enough enrollment interest, according to the district.

This week, Denton hosted two “one-stop shop” pre-K registration events for parents. Mario Zavala, who oversaw registration, said numbers are being tallied to determine whether there are enough students to fill preschool programs at the four additional schools. Students who enroll at schools that don’t hit enrollment numbers will be registered at a nearby elementary school or at an established early childhood center where the program is offered, Zavala said.

About 460 students signed up for preschool during the two-day registration, Zavala said.

The district’s biggest push is to meet the needs of families by offering more preschool programs at more schools, he said.

A survey earlier this year determined parents’ interest in additional preschool offerings, Zavala said. Families registering current Denton ISD students for the new school year were asked if they had any preschool-age children at home who might benefit from the program. Enrollment numbers at the four schools where the district is looking to add the programs also factored into the district’s decision, Zavala said.

For the additional elementary schools to add pre-K programs this year, each campus must have 16 to 18 children enrolled in each of the two half-day classes, Zavala said.

The two elementary schools with the greatest public interest for preschool programs are Lee and W.S. Ryan, Zavala said.

Lee Elementary was a “perfect candidate” because it’s near the Ann Windle School for Young Children, he said. That school is currently unable to accommodate several families interested in early childhood programs, Zavala said.

This school year would be the first time for Lee to offer preschool programs since moving into its location on Mack Place in the 1980s, according to district officials.

Principal Lorena Salas said those on her campus and in the neighborhood are excited. Several of the youngsters being enrolled live in the neighborhood, she said.

“We’re kind of growing our own,” Salas said.

The preschool offering at W.S. Ryan was a selling point for mother Christina Garcia. She has a daughter entering fifth grade at the school. On Thursday, she enrolled her 3-year-old daughter there.

Garcia had no plans to enroll her 3-year-old in pre-K if the program wasn’t offered at W.S. Ryan, she said via a translator. It’s close by and her daughters can attend school together. She also counted it a plus that she’s already familiar with teachers there.

“It’s more comfortable and just a lot easier,” Garcia said. “I’m happy about it.”

Denton ISD offers pre-K at the Gonzalez School for Young Children, the Windle School and Borman, Cross Oaks and Stephens elementary schools. As of June 5, the district reported 640 children were enrolled in pre-K and 202 in its preschool program for children with disabilities.

The district offers free half-day pre-K programs to children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, are homeless, are limited English speakers, have been placed with the Department of Family and Protective Services or are active military dependents. The free program is state-funded.

Children who don’t qualify for the free program can take advantage of the classes through the district’s tuition-based preschool.

A report presented to the school board in May indicated the district could generate more than $400,000 by adding the program at four more schools. Excluding expenses for four full-time employees and supplies, the district projects to generate more than $102,000 from the move.

District officials say those who were unable to register this week still have time. Registration at neighborhood schools begins Aug. 5.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.