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State-funded pre-K seats still open in Rowan County

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — There are about 50 seats still open for county kids whose families want to enroll them in the state-funded N.C. Pre-K program.

Smart Start Rowan, the agency that manages the state-funded seats in the county, is having some difficulty filling seats this year. Smart Start Rowan Programs Director Laura Villegas said the difficulty was expected amid the COVID-19 pandemic and, while the number of seats varies from year t0 year, there are a normal amount available.

“Families are just uncertain,” Villegas said, adding that she let some families who dropped the program know there are virtual options available.

The state passed down guidance allowing programs to host pre-K in different ways, whether blended, virtual or all in-person. Locations all have somewhat different plans, though seats in Rowan-Salisbury Schools are following its blended schedule.

Villegas said families then had to navigate finding a program that worked best for them leading up the beginning of classes. That meant considering what type of environment they wanted and other factors like the start date.

“We had families that dropped because they were concerned about sending their child to school,” Villegas said, attributing parent concern to most of the difficulty filling seats, adding some wanted to wait and see what happens before enrolling a child.

Gov. Roy Cooper outlined state plans to reopen public schools in July, but guidance on N.C. Pre-K did not come until early August when the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released specific reopening policies for the program.

The department’s Division of Child Development and Early Education set out goals including for all pre-K students to receive fully in-person instruction as much as possible and “strongly encourages N.C. Pre-K programs to prioritize having students physically present.”

The state also mandated, if a private facility opens for all in-person instruction, the N.C. Pre-K programs in that facility must also offer in-person instruction.

Villegas said Smart Start has tried to push out information on the program and pointed to stories about the issue published in the Post, but she said it is still a challenge to get people informed.

Villegas said it is not too late for kids to benefit from pre-K, which sets students up to perform well in kindergarten by teaching basics. Parents can still get in touch with Smart Start about placing a child in a program.

“I’ll still fill slots all the way up until the last couple months,” Villegas said. “It’s pretty common that children drop or move.”

For more information, visit rowan-smartstart.org or call 704-630-9085.

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