New three-year-old program makes West Liberty schools even more unique

Early Learning Center seeking families interested in program


Superintendent Dr. Diego Giraldo believes the West Liberty Community School District took another step forward last week when the Board of Education unanimously approved a new experimental pre-school program for three-year-old children.

He said the unique program will make the district educational offerings even stronger after Dr. Lindsey Meeker, Director of the West Liberty Early Learning Center, made the proposal to the board to start classes with the opening of the 2021-22 school year in August.

The superintendent called the concept of the program “awesome,” noting it gives local families a lot of flexibility for three-year-old English speaking students to learn Spanish and Spanish-speaking youngsters the opportunity to learn English – all at a very young age when they are “robust” learners.

He said families should be excited about getting their students involved in the program, calling it a great opportunity to explore new challenges for their youngsters.

Dr. Meeker’s presentation comes in the midst of the school district providing a survey to families seeking interest in the program, statistics she hopes to have completed in a couple of weeks, although noting she doesn’t think it will be difficult to find the 16-32 students needed to start the two-class program that will be taught by bilingual teachers.

She said there may be some costs to parents, but most of the costs will be picked up by grants or funding for the program from Head Start as well as the Childcare Assistance Program.

The director said the program will investigate exploratory Spanish in West Liberty pre-school program, noting getting an early jump on finding dual-language teachers for the classes will be one of the biggest challenges, noting that’s the reason she sought early board approval.

The success of the program should be known by the middle of the next school year, according to Dr. Giraldo, who said that may be “perfect timing” as the school district looks at expanding facilities and remodeling portions of the West Liberty Elementary School and eventually eliminating the Early Learning Center.

All the students in the ELC will be moved to the pre-school to fourth grade elementary school. Present students who will be entering fifth grade next year will be moved from the elementary school to the West Liberty Middle School, which is getting a 10-classroom addition presently under construction and promised to be ready for the 2021-22 school year. Dr. Giraldo said the school board may decide to change those plans, but may have to account for more classrooms with the elementary school addition if the three-year-old program takes hold.

Dr. Meeker told the school board that 40 to 60 percent of students now in the ELC are “linguistically diverse” and the district is building a bilingual/early learning strategy for purposeful play and oral language for students through Kindergarten. She said the district is looking at community partnerships like the United Way Born Learning program, and working with parents to insure the district is moving in the right direction.

“We’re trying to go into this optimistically,” Dr. Meeker said, noting it may be a full-time classroom for three year olds or a portion of the day, depending on the size of each class.

In other business, the board approved a deduction in building costs for the Middle School addition, saving the district $2,483 off the $2,289,000 initial price tag by Peak Construction Group of North Liberty as authorized by FEH Design of Des Moines, the architect for the project.

The savings comes in the form of reducing the insulation thickness on the existing maintenance shop area, which will be converted into a band room. The insulation will be reduced to two layers of 2.6-inch base instead of two layers of three-inch base.

There were also a number of personnel changes approved including the hiring of Jesse Miller as the high school custodian. The board also accepted three resignations including Taliana Acevedo-Penuela in the food service area, Shawn Kivi as junior high school head boys track coach and Heather Bixby in food service.

The next meeting of the board of education is scheduled for Monday, March 1, beginning at 6 p.m., when they are expected to make an offer to one of four finalists to replace Dr. Giraldo as the superintendent of schools. Dr. Giraldo will be leaving the district at the end of the school year following two years of service.

Among the four candidates, who will be coming to the community for face-to-face interviews on Feb. 25, are John Cain, an elementary school principal from Bettendorf; John Howard, a 7-12 principal from Independence; Shaun Kruger, a middle school principal from Parry and Michael Peterson, a shared superintendent from Wapello/Morning Sun. The board will also host a preliminary budget discussion at the meeting, go over the fiscal year 2020 audit review, get a student on-track update and hear a presentation on concurrent enrollment courses at the meeting.