Whitehall News

C. Ray preschool, Head Start open late, but finally open


Preschoolers at the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Center were the last to return to the classroom this week after the district struggled with last-minute renovations and inspection delays.

As a part of the Whitehall City School District's $78 million construction project, the C. Ray preschool program is being moved to the old Kae Avenue Elementary School building. Renovations there will allow the preschool program to operate with more room while giving the district some additional space in case enrollment figures continue to rise.

Twelve new classrooms are being added this year to the district's three new elementary schools in an effort to accommodate the influx of students.

Most Whitehall students started the 2013-14 school year Wednesday, Sept. 4.

Those enrolled in the district preschool program returned Tuesday, Sept 10, and preschoolers enrolled in C. Ray's Head Start program were expected to return Wednesday, Sept. 11, assuming no additional snafus prompted further delays. They originally were slated to return Sept. 4 with the rest of the district.

As of ThisWeek's press time Sept. 9, the center had one final inspection by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to obtain its Head Start licensure following the renovations.

According to Shirley Drake, the center's director, she and other preschool administrators called the family of each student regarding the change to the start date.

"Our parents were very patient and understanding," Drake said last week.

She said warning them in the spring that delays would be possible gave parents time to plan.

Whitehall City Schools Superintendent Brian Hamler said the district decided to delay the start of the C. Ray Williams center for several reasons. Because renovation crews were ahead of schedule, the district was close to being able to house the preschool students in the space planned for them. Originally, because of the center's construction timetable, students were going to have to be housed in a temporary area until their permanent classrooms were ready.

The decision was made to hold off opening the center for about a week in an effort to avoid moving students in and out of the swing space.

The center also failed its kitchen inspection because of some minor infractions, like not having equipment manuals out and displayed in full view. The center passed its kitchen, fire and building inspections late last week, giving the center the green light to open.

Because the district operates half of the preschool program (about 72 children) and owns the space, it was permitted to open its doors Sept. 10 following all inspections. But because the other half of the preschool is dedicated Head Start classrooms (about 80 students) and falls under the auspices of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the district was forced to wait until the state agency could complete its own inspection before it could bring back its Head Start students.

The delay in the Head Start licensure was due to the move to the old Kae Avenue Elementary School and the renovations completed there, Hamler said.