Recent statewide changes to the pre-kindergarten program will have more of an effect on DeKalb County than anywhere else in the state.
Under Gov. Nathan Deal’s new pre-K plan classes will increase from 20 to 22 students, the school year will be reduced to 160 days from 180 and teachers will take a 10 percent pay cut. The plan also calls for the statewide closure of 306 pre-K classes, nine of which are in DeKalb.
Stacey Moore, a spokeswoman for Bright from the Start, the state department that administers Georgia’s pre-K program, said the DeKalb County School System is the state’s largest pre-K provider.
The closures of classes are based on both an individual level and a county level. At the individual level, program closures are based on voluntary submission or other additional data such as low rosters and probation status; the county level is based on county level reductions, county level saturation rates and county level waiting lists, among other things.
Starr White, whose daughter attends the pre-K program at Atherton Elementary, one of the schools being closed this year under the redistricting plan, said that she is worried about her daughter having to go to a new school with teachers and classmates she doesn’t know.
“My concern is that she’s got to be relocated and has to adapt to a new environment all over again,” White said.
White said that she attended Atherton and there are still some teachers there that she remembered.
“It kind of hurts. It’s like a family being broken up,” White said.
She thinks that adding two children to pre-K classes will not affect the overall educational standards but if they keep cutting programs it could become an issue down the road.
“It’s something that they need to address because the schools will become overcrowded. If I could get my daughter in a private school I would because I think she would have a smaller class size and a better education,” White said.
Jamel Kimbro, the pre-K teacher at Atherton, said that adding two children to each class is something that some of his colleagues have expressed concern about.
“Pre-K is such a demanding level to teach because the state requires so much paperwork for each student,” Kimbro said.
He explained that some teachers are worried that the more students they get the less time they will have with them because of the enormous amount of paperwork required.
He said that many parents he has spoken to hope that the county will find another way to fund the 20 days that were cut from next year’s calendar and that parents are worried the shorter calendar might affect their work lives. Kimbro said parents have told him that their children aren’t getting the education they deserve.
“If we don’t figure out a way to hone in on the [problems] that are really plaguing pre-K, it could be a program that could be eliminated all together,” Kimbro said.
Kimbro, who has been teaching at Atherton for four years and has been the pre-K teacher for one, said pre-K is important because it helps children develop the many social skills that they will use for the rest of their life.
“Teaching pre-K is really the only level where you [can] focus on social development, and practices and methods that [children] require in order to be successful,” Kimbro said.