Macon County receives funding to expand program.
Macon County's preschool program is among the best in the state when it comes to providing educational opportunities to all children, some as young as three years old.
Macon County recently received additional funding from the state to expand the county's preschool program in order to be able to meet growing demands. According to Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan, between Macon Program for Progress, Macon County School's preschool program and other private daycares in the county, only 50 percent of the age appropriate population is able to be served.
“There are many more children that could and should benefit from preschool, and we hope that in the future we can continue to grow and expand to be able to reach more children,” said Duncan.
According to Amy Anders, Macon County's Preschool Coordinator, the primary goal for the program is to provide a nurturing environment for every child in the community.
While preschool is an essential tool for all children, the services and opportunities it provides for children with disabilities is especially important. According to Anders, school systems are required by the state to provide special education services when a child with a disability turns three years old.
“We provide classroom-based services in private daycares, in church preschools, in homes, in our own classrooms, and in our preschool office, which is currently located at Iotla Valley,” explained Anders. “Some of the services we offer are special education, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and vision services.”
Anders explained to the Board of Education Monday night that because of the state requirement to provide services, it became increasingly hard for Macon County Schools' staff to reach the homes of every child with a disability in the community and provide them with the education they needed. Because of the county having such a need for the services, about five years ago, Macon County Schools opened preschool classrooms throughout the district to bring children to one central location for the attention they need. With the help of Paula Ledford, the Exceptional Children’s Director for the county, the school system has been able to expand and provide a more appropriate and efficient way of providing comprehensive services to children with disabilities.
Macon County has for a number of years, utilized North Carolina Pre-K (formerly known as More at Four) funding. “This has provided an opportunity for children who are four years old and ‘atrisk,’ which means they could have financial barriers, a disability, or other factors that qualify them, with an opportunity to attend a state-funded preschool to get ready for kindergarten,” said Anders.
Currently, there is one dedicated N.C. Pre-K classroom at Cartoogechaye Elementary, which houses 18 children. Other classrooms throughout the district including one classroom at Iotla Valley for 16 children, with another opening in January to house 14 children, and one at South Macon for 18 children, are blended funding classrooms, meaning they are funded through Developmental Day funds for students with disabilities, NC Pre-K funds, and private pay funds. Spaces are offered for $325 per month.
“We hope that this year we will be able to generate enough funds to cover the cost of our classrooms, including the salaries for our teachers,” said Anders.
The classrooms in the district implement a one teacher to six children ratio, with an aim of obtaining a ratio of 50 percent children with disabilities and 50 percent children who are classified as typically functioning.
In order to receive both Developmental Day and NC Pre-K funds, teachers are held to the highest standards when it comes to their licensure and are closely watched by the Division of Child Development, which requires a minimum of a four-star ECERS rating.
According to Anders, South Macon teachers, including Meagan Rogers, Stephanie Kinsland, Amanda Cochran, and Melinda Carpenter, recently received a 6.32 rating from ECERS. Iotla Valley teachers Sheena Hughes, Kim Stanley, Jamie Mingacci and Anna Houston, will undergo the ECERS assessment after Christmas break.
In recognition of their efforts and success on the state level, Dr. Duncan presented the preschool teachers in the county with certifications of appreciation during Monday night's board meeting.