Gowanda working to revive UPK

GOWANDA — Earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson said that the universal prekindergarten program that was being run by Chautauqua Opportunities Inc. will no longer be available for the upcoming school year due to staffing shortages and a desire to consolidate the program. This left Gowanda with a few different options on how to proceed with a similar program.

Last week, Anderson laid out a plan for Gowanda to create their own, in-house UPK program. “We thought of this as an opportunity to increase our footprint,” he said. “I mentioned last time that we were kind of looking to add another grade level here and essentially running our own UPK program.”

Part of the reason the in-house option is so appealing is that there are limited options elsewhere in the geographic area, according to Anderson.

“There’s a great opportunity for us to bring our students in house to align what we do in K-4,” he said. “Those students would have access to all the school programs and support that we offer. It’s not that Chautauqua Opportunities doesn’t do a great job, but I like our faculty and I like what we do.”

As for budgeting options, Anderson said for the first couple years, there is a UPK grant available, along with extra stimulus funding, as well as the budgeted money that was set aside for a UPK program anyway. After two years of the program, it would also be partly supported by the school’s general budget.

The major cost increase for the school would be for additional staff members it would require. Anderson’s proposal included hiring two new teachers and two teacher assistants, to keep a student-to-teacher ratio of around 9-to-1. The program would support a maximum of 36 students.

“We have all the supplies and we have all the materials,” he said. “It’s just that we’d have to add two more teachers and teacher assistants. That’s our biggest cost at this point.”

Anderson did note that there is a possibility that some of their existing teacher aides could slide into these new roles at some point.

As for other logistics, the program would run from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and transportation would rely on parents being able to bring their child in. With Chautauqua Opportunities, the program ran from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and requiring parent transportation was the same for that as well. However, should the opportunity come up, Anderson said he’d like to explore the school providing transportation at some point.

“Since it’s not a compulsory attendance grade level, we’re not required to offer transportation,” he said. “I think right now, transportation would be a barrier for us, but it’s something we can explore moving forward. I think it would be a nice benefit for our students.”

The Board of Education gave Dr. Anderson verbal approval to continue exploring creating the in-house UPK program.

The next meeting of the Gowanda school board will be Wednesday, which kicks off with a public hearing at 6 p.m. Beginning with that meeting, the board will be meeting in the Gowanda High School Library, as opposed to the Middle School Library they have been meeting in. This change will be due to construction in the middle school.


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