Pickerington Times-Sun

District to consider options for preschool growth

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Pickerington Local School District officials this week began discussions of possible options to address growth at the district's lone preschool.

District Director of Special Education Bob Blackburn Monday told members of the Pickerington Board of Education the district should begin looking at options to relocate or expand the Pickerington Learning Steps Preschool.

Currently, the district's only preschool is housed in a six-room portable module at Diley Middle School, 750 Preston Trails Drive.

Blackburn noted there presently are 74 students attending the preschool, which has a maximum capacity of 80 students.

He added that annual transitions of students from preschool to kindergarten frequently relieves overcrowding concerns, but noted attendance at the preschool has grown by 31 students since 2008 and continued growth is expected.

"For the time being, we are fine in terms of space," Blackburn said. "We just need to start looking to the future."

Generally, Pickerington Learning Steps students attend preschool anywhere from one to three years before being transitioned to kindergarten.

Those transitions are made based on students' age eligibility for kindergarten, as well as their academic development and progress.

Monday, Blackburn presented four options for addressing growth at the preschool. He said no decisions about the issue have been made, and he currently doesn't have a recommendation for the board.

The options included keeping Pickerington Learning Steps at Diley Middle School and upgrading the preschool's portable space as needed, as well as moving the preschool to Heritage Elementary, 100 East St.

If the preschool was moved to Heritage, however, redistricting Pickerington students in grades K-4 would be required in order to provide adequate space.

Two other options currently on the table include moving the preschool to Toll Gate Elementary and Toll Gate Middle School, 12183 Toll Gate Road, or utilizing multiple elementary school buildings to house preschool classrooms.

"I have no pre-conceived determinations or recommendations," Blackburn said. "There could be other options."

With respect to maintaining the preschool's current location, Blackburn noted the district likely would continue to face space constraints, and said the portable used for the preschool is an older unit which will require a new heating and cooling system.

If the preschool was moved to Heritage, he said, all preschool students could be housed in one location that could facilitate future growth and has age-appropriate restrooms and classrooms, but the required redistricting would impact 200 students.

If the preschool was moved to Toll Gate, that site also would house students in a single location and have room for growth, but unlike Heritage it is not centrally located within the district.

Blackburn added some preschool classrooms would be located within Toll Gate Middle School, where restrooms and classrooms aren't age appropriate for preschool students.

By utilizing multiple elementary buildings throughout the district, preschool students could be housed in schools closer to their respective neighborhoods, but preschool students would be spread out and the district likely would have to add preschool teachers.

Additional discussions about the preschool relocation or expansion were expected to be discussed Wednesday, Nov. 7 with a group including Blackburn, PLSD Business and Facilities Manager Vince Utterback and representatives of the school board.

In the meantime, board member Jim Brink said at least initially he supports eliminating portable classrooms from the district.

"I'd like to see the portables gone with our kids," Brink said. "I don't view redistricting at the elementary level as a con."

Board member Cathy Olshefski said redistricting can be "disruptive" for students and parents, but the district must maximize its available classroom space.

She said she also tentatively supports centralizing the district's preschool at Heritage.

"I kind of agree with (Brink), as well, that the less portables the better," she said. "One of the weaknesses at Toll Gate is how far east it is in the district. I mean, it's pretty far out vs. Heritage, which is pretty central."

Blackburn said there's no set timeline for determining how to address growth at the preschool, but added the district should begin strategizing because it might outgrow its facilities at Diley Middle School within the near future because of continued growth in the community and a rising number of special education students in the district.

"There's no urgency to get it done," Blackburn said. "We can get through this year, and we can possibly get through next year.

"In the next four years, I don't think we're going to add another 30 kids, but we are going to continue to grow."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

"For the time being, we are fine in terms of space. We just need to start looking to the future."

--BOB BLACKBURN

district director of special education

 

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