[Baltimore Sun] Carroll schools to double size of pre-K program amid Blueprint for Maryland’s Future rollout

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Prekindergarten programs in Carroll County will nearly double in scope by 2028, and the school system has doubled the number of private providers from two to four in the last year, according to a plan to implement new Blueprint for Maryland’s Future initiatives.

The Blueprint is a multibillion-dollar public school reform effort entering the second year of its decade-long rollout. It is designed to make Maryland’s schools among the highest performing in the country by incorporating a $60,000 starting salary for new teachers, providing more time for teachers to plan lessons and develop skills outside the classroom, allowing high school students to enroll in unlimited community college classes at no charge to them or their family, and offering universal prekindergarten for 3-year-olds, among other initiatives.

Each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions submitted an updated implementation plan to the state’s accountability board last month, outlining plans and challenges in implementing new and upcoming Blueprint mandates.

Increasing the number of accredited full-day prekindergarten programs and the number of private providers partnering with the school system are Carroll’s top priorities with regard to prekindergarten expansion, according to the document. The Blueprint ultimately intends for private providers to account for half of prekindergarten seats.

The school system accomplished its major initiative this year of providing at least one prekindergarten classroom in every elementary school by the end of the 2023-2024 school year, with the exception of Freedom Elementary because of overcrowding and limited space. Elmer Wolfe, Robert Moton and Runnymede elementary schools each have a second prekindergarten classroom added this year, allowing for a full-day and half-day program at each school. Plans to construct additions at Friendship Valley, Cranberry Station, Sandymount and Taneytown elementary schools will allow for a second prekindergarten classroom at each of those schools.

The system’s plan, which is supported by the Board of Education’s Capital Improvement Plan, is for an addition at Freedom Elementary School to be in place by 2027, providing two prekindergarten classrooms at the school.

The public school system also plans to offer a half-day and full-day prekindergarten program at each of its five Title I elementary schools during the 2024-2025 school year. Elmer Wolfe, Robert Moton and Taneytown elementary schools have schoolwide Title I programs, while Cranberry Station and Westminster elementary schools each have a Title I targeted assistance program. Schools where at least 40% of students receive free or reduced-price meals may be identified to implement federally funded programs to support students at the school.

The county currently offers 60 prekindergarten seats through private providers and 460 seats across its 23 classrooms, up from 400 seats last year. According to the document, 13 of the full-day prekindergarten programs are currently accredited, six are on track to be accredited this year, and five will go through the process to be renewed or accredited in 2024-25. The system plans to have 840 available prekindergarten seats by 2028.

Since the 2022-2023 school year, five half-day public prekindergarten classrooms were transitioned to full day. According to the plan, every prekindergarten teacher employed by the county school system is certified in early childhood education.

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment data shows an uptick in preparedness, to 58.5% of kindergarteners ready for school, up from 55% the previous school year. The increase in preparedness can be attributed to higher enrollment in prekindergarten programs, according to the document.

The system has also transitioned to centralized electronic prekindergarten applications, based on feedback from staff and families, for the 2024-2025 school year. Prekindergarten families previously completed paper applications at their respective schools.

“The electronic process will make it easier for parents to complete the application at their convenience on their electronic device and eliminate the need to go to a school to pick up a paper application,” according to the document. “This process will also ensure equity as all applications are timestamp submitted to Central Office for review and processing.”

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