TUSD to Overhaul Preschool Programs ; District Wants to Streamline Process, Reach More Children

By Huicochea, Alexis | AZ Daily Star, May 26, 2015 | Go to article overview

TUSD to Overhaul Preschool Programs ; District Wants to Streamline Process, Reach More Children


Huicochea, Alexis, AZ Daily Star


For years, TUSD's disjointed preschool program has sent parents every which way looking for the right fit for their kids. But all that will soon change.

In addition to its fee-based traditional preschool, the district has four themed free preschool models catering to target populations -- low income, disabled, minorities and blends of those groups -- each with their own different criteria and schedules.

But not every special needs model is available at every location. And coordination between locations has been scant.

It is not uncommon for parents to seek out early education for their child only to be turned away at one location without ever being told there is another location just up the road that could meet their needs.

Tucson Unified School District's effort to streamline the process is aimed at correcting that deficiency and letting the district reach nearly 400 more children at an earlier age.

The effort also focuses on providing a better experience for children with special needs, placing them in more inclusive environments that allow for interaction with their non-special needs peers.

The change, to a system already in place across the country, should make a big difference for Tucson families and children stuck on waiting lists during what experts say is a crucial time for brain development.

Though some have expressed concern about what the changes will mean for well-respected programs such as the Parent and Child Education program, or PACE, TUSD administrators say they have no plans to take away from that success. But maintaining the status quo isn't ideal.

"This is not an effort to reduce costs and it's not expected to cost us anything more," said Ana Gallegos, TUSD assistant superintendent of elementary and K-8 leadership. "This is about leveraging resources to provide services for more students and being more inclusive."

"I know that the transition and changes are going to be difficult," TUSD Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva added. "Periodically we go down this road and it's pushed off another year and I don't think our children can afford to have it pushed down anymore."

The existing structure doesn't serve as many children as it possibly could. Of the district's various free preschool offerings, only one model -- Partners/Explorers -- is designed specifically to blend special needs and mainstream children, and that serves only 180 children.

The lack of blended offerings has resulted in 75 percent of special needs children being placed in self-contained classrooms when they might thrive in a setting that allows them to interact with and learn from their mainstream peers before heading off to kindergarten, said Scott Hagerman, TUSD director of exceptional education.

Earlier this month, a TUSD parent shared with the governing board the success her son had in a mainstream classroom after spending a school year in a self-contained model. …

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