Looking for innovation in early childhood educationPublished 3:33pm Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Early education and how to increase opportunities for children under age 5 were the main topics discussed when Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius visited Albert Lea on Wednesday.
The visit came as Cassellius is touring schools around the state. Cassellius said Gov. Mark Dayton encouraged her to talk with administrators, parents and teachers about education issues.
“It’s something I’ll learn from and share what I learned back at the state level,” Cassellius said.
She also said learning more about early education is helpful when the governor’s budget includes some investments specifically to help families with children under age 5. Dayton’s budget proposes investing more than $80 million in early childhood education, which includes $44 million for scholarships that would provide thousands of children access to child care and preschool. Another $40 million would help school districts pay for all-day kindergarten, which is something that Albert Lea is currently funding on its own.
Albert Lea School District Early Childhood Coordinator Jenny Hanson chose a few sites for the education commissioner to visit, and they started with the district’s preschool program for children with high risk factors that is housed at Halverson Elementary School.
Then there was a stop at an in-home daycare to see Preschool on Wheels, another district preschool program that sends a teacher to in-home daycares. Cassellius said she was impressed with how well that program works.
“I thought it was really remarkable,” Cassellius said. “It’s the most innovative thing I’ve seen in my commissionership.”
Finally the tour stopped at Brookside Education Center to see an early childhood education program for toddlers and their parents, where both parents and their children attend classes together and separately.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Cassellius said. “There is great leadership here.”
Finally, a roundtable discussion about education topics was held at Brookside. Many district administrators attended, as well as a few parents and community members. Cassellius fielded questions relating to bullying, immigration and transportation issues.
One topic was about the graduation test that Minnesota students currently have to take. Cassellius said there are other schools of thought relating to the test, and they’re looking at replacing it with a test similar to the ACT.
“The key to that is the MnSCU system accepting it to replace the Accuplacer test,” Cassellius said.
Superintendent Mike Funk said he was thankful Cassellius was able to visit the school district and learn more about early childhood programs.
“I am glad that the commissioner took the time to visit Albert Lea and see the innovative approaches that we are taking to educate our students,” Funk said.
More preschool spots will be available
With the possibility of more scholarships available through Dayton’s budget, Hanson said the school district is hoping to add more preschool classes and serve more families in Albert Lea.
“We still have to do some work on access though,” Hanson said.
Programming is sometimes not the issue for families, and transportation is often the major hurdle. Hanson said she’s working on finding a way to make busing more readily available to families.
The district recently sent out its preschool application to families with children of the right age who are reported on the census. If a family didn’t receive an application it can be found at www.albertlea.k12.mn.us by clicking on the Community Education tab and then the Early Childhood Family Education link.
Hanson said she’s working to find families who need preschool and helping them find the best program that will fit their need. Community Education Director Chris Chalmers said he’s glad the school district and Community Education staff are so dedicated.
“We’re very fortunate to have a lot of passionate people who are thinking of new ways to reach families,” Chalmers said.