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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2011

TPS budget ills may nix project associated with Head Start


An early education program aimed at Toledo's poorest neighborhoods could fall victim to the public school district's budget woes.

The Collaborative Learning and Instructional Preschool Project is a partnership between Toledo Public Schools and the city's Head Start preschool program.

Head Start has traditionally been play-based; under the program, school district employees train Head Start teachers on including an academic approach, provide curriculum, and monitor the program. Head Start teachers then use the program with 4-year-olds, hoping to prepare students for kindergarten.

But the program was funded through federal stimulus dollars, and with that money running out, the program is slated to be cut, district officials said.

The Toledo Board of Education approved a human-resource committee recommendation Tuesday night that listed coordinator Arlene Tucker's position as terminated. District officials say they are searching for alternate sources of funding, but without it, the preschool project will end. "The problems are the district has right-sized itself in terms of school closing, and space will be limited," Toledo's interim chief academic officer, Jim Gault, said. "The other comes down to funding, and while [CLIPP] has some merits in achievement, it is still taking funding away from students we are obligated to service."

The program costs about $100,000 a year, Mr. Gault said.

The district is facing a multimillion-dollar shortfall and is looking to cut costs.

Started a decade ago by Ms. Tucker when she was a principal at Franklin Elementary, the program has expanded to 10 Head Start classes with about 270 children. Head Start instructors teach the classes.

"Our kids were coming into kindergarten underprepared," Ms. Tucker said, "and we really needed to do something to work with 4-year-olds a little ahead of schedule."

The program has seen some success.

Students who go through the program score on average higher, Ms. Tucker said, compared with similar students on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment-Literacy exam, the tool used in Ohio to gauge student reading skills when they enter kindergartens.

Students who don't use the program and go to high-poverty schools generally score between a 14 or 15 on the assessment's 29-point scale; students who do go through CLIPP average a 17 on the exam.

Mr. Gault said there was often a disparity in scores, depending on the teacher, but some classes did have significant gains.

Without the program, the Toledo school district has no early-education programs that specifically target poor children; Head Start students come from families at or below the poverty level.

Mr. Gault acknowledged that impending void, and said the district is looking for other options.

"We only benefit from having a very strong preschool program," Mr. Gault said, "and we would encourage and welcome the opportunity to be involved in that."

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.

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