Early childhood education might be coming back to Boise schools.
Four years after the district shut down pre-kindergarten programs at Hawthorne Elementary on the Boise Bench and Whittier Elementary west of Downtown, the city of Boise is partnering with the Boise School District to revive pre-K at Hawthorne and introduce it at Whitney Elementary as part of a project to help the Bench’s Vista neighborhood.
Idaho is one of six states that doesn’t put state money into preschool, so the city and other supporters are raising funds from private sources. United Way of Treasure Valley is contributing $50,000 toward the program, which will require $262,000 in startup money and a $182,000 yearly budget in subsequent years.
“When a community like Boise makes a pretty bold statement by committing to fund preschool, we felt like it was important,” said Nora Carpenter, United Way president and CEO.
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If private donations don’t cover the cost, Ben Quintana, Boise city councilman, said he is prepared to support putting tax money in to make up the difference.
The city wants to “make sure we are doing everything we can to make our people in our city succeed.” Quintana said. “Starting early sets them up for success.”
Boise schools will provide the classrooms and other in-kind contributions.
Vista is a neighborhood affected by high numbers of low-income families, low home appraisals and high renter occupancy.
“The numbers were compelling,” said Diana Lachiondo, director of community partnerships in Mayor Dave Bieter’s office.
A city analysis in 2013 found that 47 percent of Vista’s homes were rentals in 2012, compared with 38 percent citywide. Property values averaged $99,860, slightly more than half the city average of $181,436. The number of houses built before 1979 was 61 percent, compared with 51 percent across the city.
Low-income students make up 83 percent of Whitney Elementary’s student body and 72 percent of Hawthorne’s. That compares with 45 percent citywide, including 53 Boise School District schools and 15 schools in the city limits that are part of the West Ada School District.
Vista neighborhood residents and the city are discussing a number of improvement projects:
• A greater police presence. Police already have an office in an affordable housing complex at the corner of Canal Street and Vista Avenue.
• Moving a Boise fire station at 4422 W. Overland Road, across from Hillcrest Country Club, to the old Kentucky Fried Chicken site a half-mile east at 3575 Overland Road, closer to the Vista neighborhood. The city just bought the 0.65 acres for $335,000 and expects to spend $3.7 million on the new station.
• Improving 11 uncontrolled intersections that have no stop signs or stoplights.
• Looking for ways to bring neighborhood residents closer together. The neighborhood is divided by Vista Avenue.
• Considering new bike paths and walkways.
Amy Pence-Brown, who lives in the Vista neighborhood, is happy about pre-K coming to her school. “I have heard nothing but positive support,” said Pence-Brown, volunteer coordinator for Hawthorne’s parent-teacher organization. “We have seen the importance of preschool throughout the country over time.”
Pence-Brown has a 1-year-old who will go to Hawthorne and could attend the preschool. But pre-K is important, even if that doesn’t happen, she said.
“It’s really important for me that they get that sort of education,” she said.
In several studies across the country, pre-K is credited with helping prepare children for college, reducing dropout rates, lowering crime rates and producing economically productive members of society. Preschools ultimately return $7 to $16 to society for every dollar expended on them, said Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.
Idaho lawmakers have resisted spending money on early childhood education, saying that is a role for families and the state needs to put its resources toward public schools. Only a handful of pre-K programs exist in Idaho schools outside of those for students with special needs. Caldwell has the P16 program supported in part by United Way of Treasure Valley. Basin School District in Idaho City operates a pre-K for 14 3- and 4-year-olds for $38,000 a year, funded by a supplemental levy passed by voters.
LAGGING THE CITY
At Whitney and Hawthorne, only about half the kindergarteners who arrive at school each fall are ready to learn reading, according to the city’s analysis. That compares with 62 percent citywide.
Jean Lovelace, principal at Whitney for 12 years, has seen a variety of educational shortcomings among kindergarteners. “We have students who can’t write their name, don’t know numbers, don’t know how to sit down,” she said. “They don’t know how to do school.”
They are expected to be reading by the end of kindergarten, Lovelace said.
The Boise School District’s last attempt at pre-K, a program called Boise All Ready, proved successful. Teachers saw improvements that carried over into kindergarten.
In 2005, in a sample of about 40 students at Hawthorne and Whittier, all who had come from Boise’s preschool were on grade level for reading in kindergarten based on the fall Idaho Reading Indicator, a short test of students’ reading ability and preparedness. Only 60 percent of the students who had not had Boise All Ready training were on grade level. By winter 2006, the share of students without preschool who were reading on grade level had dropped to 40 percent, while the share with preschool stayed at 100 percent.
“It makes a critcal difference in their success,” Boise School District Superintendent Don Coberly said.
Pence-Brown believes starting early in life is the key.
“The earlier we get our kids interested in reading and writing and spelling their names in the home and out of their home, (it) is so beneficial,” she said.
Here’s a video on the project created by the city of Boise: