Patricia Timmons works with her preschool class at Dayton’s Westwood PreK-8 School. Dayton Public Schools’ preschool programs are part of Preschool Promise and received the state’s highest rating of five stars. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Preschool board tries personal approach for sign-ups

With sign-ups somewhat slow as expected, Preschool Promise officials are turning to a personal touch, hoping interaction from their new team of eight part-time “outreach specialists” will get more families to register for the program this fall.

Program Manager Charmaine Webster said the outreach team in recent weeks has canvassed neighborhoods with yard signs and fliers, and attended community events including Juneteenth, Refugee Day and the Children’s Hospital tower opening. They also have a specialist at the Job Center on Wednesdays, talking to families while they wait for appointments, and are planning the same thing with Community Health Centers soon.

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“We’re a new program, so just seeing a flier or billboard doesn’t mean nearly as much as being able to talk to a person,” Webster said. “That’s why the outreach specialists are so important, because we have to build trust with the community.”

Preschool Promise aims to expand high-quality preschool access to all 4-year-olds in Dayton, with tuition assistance for families and professional training to help schools improve. The goal is a long-term improvement in education. Dayton schools have ranked very low on state tests for years, and preschool advocates tout research showing students who are better prepared by kindergarten do better in the long run.

This fall’s Dayton expansion, after a recent pilot program, is funded $4.3 million per year from the 0.25 percent city income tax increase paid by Dayton residents and those who work in the city.

Preschool Promise Executive Director Robyn Lightcap said the program is up to 171 applications counting both Dayton and the Kettering wing of the project, up from about 100 a month ago.

RELATED: Preschool applications open for Dayton, Kettering families

“I think we are right on pace of where we should be on enrollment. We are starting to attract new people …” Lightcap said. “We expect that we’ll have many families sign up in August because it’s the start of the school year. Our larger partners will be enrolling their children in August and September, so we should have a firmer count by September.”

Those large partners are Dayton Public Schools, Kettering City Schools and the Miami Valley Child Development Centers, which runs Head Start programs locally. Several hundred students are expected to participate through those agencies.

But the bigger challenge is at the dozens of smaller, independent preschool providers, who are just learning the ins and outs of Preschool Promise.

“We know that we have a lot of work to do in educating our providers in how to share the message with their families,” Webster said.

RELATED: Sign-ups got off to slow start for Preschool Promise

She added that outreach specialists are going to some schools at the end of the day to talk to both school directors and families as they pick up their children.

“I think we will see an influx by the end of August from the outreach team’s work this summer,” Lightcap said. “I don’t really have a number (as a goal) because it’s our first time doing this so we don’t have a good handle on it … We know that people make choices about their children from word of mouth and from references, so our best way of communicating it is through people and the outreach team.”

Preschool notes

-At its meeting Thursday, the preschool board approved a $127,258 contract with Miami Valley Child Development Centers. The money will pay for MVCDC to hire a lead coach to work with its teachers, as well as providing training on math and reading curriculum.

-The board also approved a contract for up to $71,445 with Sparkbox to build a new Preschool Promise web site. The existing web pages are intertwined with Learn to Earn Dayton’s website and can be confusing to navigate.

-The board accepted Kettering City Schools’ contribution of $200,000 to supplement tuition and quality assistance at Preschool Promise locations in Kettering.

-Preschool Promise is in the process of hiring a full-time, paid Director of Quality, to make sure the programs that participate are providing high-level programming to students.

RELATED: Preschool board started marketing blitz months ago

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