RED BANK PRE-K: ALL IN, IF NOT ALL IN TOWN

Teacher Kelly Hogan greets a returning four-year-old in her new classroom at RBR Thursday. Below, students gets ready to draw their own portraits.  (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank crossed an educational milestone Thursday when, for the first time, it opened its doors to 345 three- and four-year-olds, leaving out no children eligible for its pre-K program, officials said.

The fact that only 11 of the  23 classrooms to house the newly-expanded program are actually in Red Bank appears not to be much of an issue to parents, a “really excited” district Superintendent Laura Morana told reporters on a tour of four classes at Red Bank Regional High, in Little Silver, on opening day.

“Parents are simply delighted” that the program, funded with $4.1 million from the state Department of Education, is available to all kids in the three-and-four-year-old cohort, Morana said. “If any are upset, I haven’t heard it.”

The pre-K program has four classrooms of roughly 15 students each at the borough’s primary school; three at Monmouth Day Care Center and two at the Acelero Head Start facility, both on Drs. Parker Boulevard; and two at St. Thomas Episcopal Church parish center on East Sunset Avenue.

Offsite, in addition to the four classrooms at RBR, there are three in Middletown on Kings Highway; three are at the Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls; and two are at a Presbyterian church in Lincroft. Busing is available to all.

Students were assigned to the locations in a random process to make it fair, Morana said.

Sixty of those kids initiated the program Thursday at RBR, where two small, mirror-image buildings of two classrooms apiece debuted as homes to the pre-k effort. Once used for specialized programs, the classrooms had sat unused for several years, said RBR Superintendent Jim Stefankiewicz.

Morana said she had coveted the space for the pre-K space for some time, and Stefankiewicz said he was glad to accommodate the borough district.

“We really consider this early freshman orientation for these kids,” he said, “because many of them will probably end up here as high school students.”

Morana said she expects the pre-K population to hold steady at about 345 for the next couple of years. As those children move up into the primary school, she said, “the challenge will be in continue to maximize space” utilization.

Key to that, she said, will be “continuing to work with our partners,” such as the Community YMCA, which oversees the classrooms at St. Thomas, the Monmouth Reform Temple and the Presbyterian church, so that if necessary, the four pre-k classes at the primary school might be shifted to offsite locations.

The average class size at the primary school is closer to 21 students, so fewer classrooms would be needed than at the pre-k level, she said.