PRE-K BEGINS YEAR WITH 60 STAYING HOME

head-start-090611The lights were on Tuesday morning as the staff awaited the arrival of pre-k students for the first day of the school year at the Head Start school on Drs. James Parker Boulevard. (Click to enlarge)

Red Bank’s multiyear ramp-up to a full pre-kindergarten program reaches a new plateau Tuesday, with room for every four-year-old whose parents desired enrollment having a classroom seat.

But opening day of the 2011-’12 school year also means that fewer three-year-olds could be accommodated than initially expected, leaving some parents disgruntled, says Superintendent Laura Morana, who oversees the two-school district.

“Maybe one thing parents don’t understand is that we cannot accept every three-year-old,” she says. “There is a five-year program calling for gradual expansion of the program to 2013-’14, when all three- and four-year-olds will be enrolled. It’s not as though we’re neglecting the three-year-olds.” An “overwhelming” surge in the number of three-year-olds relative to population projections and a lack of classroom space accounts for the shut-out of some 60 threes, Morana said. A lottery was held in May to determine which children would be enrolled.

“The number of three-year-olds is very hard to predict,” Morana said.

The program is built around population forecasts required by the state Department of Education.

“All our plans were guided” by projections that anticipated a need for 222 three- and four-year-olds by now, Morana said. But already, however, the program is handling 265. About 80 of those students are three years old.

Last year, the district added satellite facilities to house pre-k classrooms, boosting the total number of locations to six: the primary school, Monmouth Day Care Center, St. Anthony of Padua, the Community YMCA, Tower Hill School and Acelero Learning’s Head Start.

Morana said she is in “very serious conversations” with two agencies about providing space for the 2012-’13 school year, by which time she believes the district will have enough space for all pre-k children.

She’s under the gun to nail down the arrangements by the end of October, when the district must file its plan for next year.