Dual language education ahead at ELC?

Board reluctant to approve new three-year-old program in West Liberty


Answering a lot of concerns about starting a new three-year-old pre-school program, West Liberty Early Learning Center principal Dr. Lindsay Meeker is looking forward to launching a new era in dual-language education in the next school year.

The administrator’s program was the focus of an hour-long work session Monday, April 19, of the West Liberty School Board of Education held at the District Office.

Board members asked a lot of questions about not only the proposed third grade program but fourth grade pre-school changes that hope to get the program on a better financial track.

Dr. Meeker said a survey shows the school has interest from 32 families in placing their three-year-olds in the four day Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday program, but says she may limit the program to 16 students that will be housed in two classrooms with one certified teacher and aiding paraprofessional per eight students.

The four days a week program would be filled with creative and kindness curriculum for students, who would pay monthly for the education, co-funded by Head Start funding as well as Iowa Child Care Assistance/Child Care Resource and Referral.

Dr. Meeker told the board the program is estimated to net just less than $1,000 annually after hiring teachers and paraprofessionals, including benefits. She estimated over 50 percent of the students may qualify for Head Start aid, a qualification of the program.

Dr. Meeker also detailed the present four-year-old preschool program, reshaping the classes next year in presenting two different models the board will have to make a decision about, including offering bilingual education in the second model. She stressed that the end goal is to move to a more substantial model by the 2022-23 school year. The director said the first model would save between $60,000-70,000 in the upcoming school year while the model two program could mean a deficit for the same year. She could not give an exact deficit because the numbers would be impacted by enrollment, but based on previous history, the program could lose as much as $130,000. Both models would address learning missed this year and last year.

Along with creative curriculum, the classes would offer the second step of social emotional learning, would have a multi-tier system of support and special education services for students that qualify.

She stressed that part of the problem with the program is the fact youngsters may have missed a year of learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, asking “how do we prepare for that?” The director talked about putting together some questions in registering students in asking about educational history of students.

Dr, Meeker said she is currently working with DHS on growing the quality rating of the school in order to obtain a yearly stipend that comes with improved QRS ratings, something that has never been done at the school. The stipend could be up to $3,200, which can be used however the school wishes.

There was also concern about the number of classrooms needed for the programs, an issue in planning an upcoming addition to the West Liberty Elementary School, moving students from ELC into a new addition that will replace the present pre-school to kindergarten facility. Superintendent Diego Giraldo said the program has “good timing” in that respect, although it’s still questionable how many additional classrooms might be needed.

The school continues to work with Muscatine Early Chilhood on family scholarships and Meeker said Head Start will be assessing classrooms this fall in areas of learning, environment, curriculum and student-teacher interactions, something that could not be done this year due to the pandemic. She said in exploring grant possibilities for the program having Spanish as a second language was important.

The director said professional development and collaboration would be provided for teachers in the new programs to include exploratory Spanish, something that is not offered at the present time.

Dr. Meeker said one of her biggest issues is having time to find good teachers for the program to insure students are served properly, Dr. Giraldo emphasizing, “We need to move to the next steps as soon as possible.”

“I’m not saying the transition will be easy,” Dr. Meeker said of changing teaching habits. “Change is hard sometimes,” she said, adding teachers in the program are going to get all the professional development they need.

Board member Stephanie Dengler asked why the district is trying to rush into the program? “I do not understand the urgency,” she said, noting she would rather see the program done right rather than quickly and questioned whether it made sense to institute an entire program for what could be as few as eight students.

“I’m not an educator and I don’t pretend to be,” said Dengler, noting the program wasn’t done right when it originated and emphasized that it needs to be properly put into place today.

Dr. Meeker said the program hasn’t been moving along as well as it had hoped because of the pandemic.