Preschool: Discussion before implementation

It is wonderful that school board members come to the board with passion about education, some with strong feelings in certain areas.

However, it is very important that board members put these strong feelings in check and make sure they have the backing of the administration before they push an idea that might have major implications for the school system. The board members have common sense, passion and often the experience of seeing their own children go through the school system, plus the expertise they bring from their own career field; the administrators have the training, education and knowledge about educational programs and policies. They are the education experts and should be relied on as such to guide Milford’s school programs.

Recently several board members indicated they wanted to switch the schools back to a K-5/6-8/9-12 grade configuration and seemed to be taking steps to put such a move into action.

After discussion with school administrators and other board members at a public meeting, the board members put the brakes on that until the timing is right.

Last week presented a similar case when the board dealt with increasing the number of preschool classes in the school system, a move that might have represented a philosophical change for Milford in terms of the way it handles preschool programs.

Board member Christopher Saley has often said he is a strong believer in preschool education and would like to see the program expanded in the Milford public schools. Today, there are only several classes, offered to families of children with special needs, with non-special needs children accepted to fill the remaining seats in the class.

Saley asked the school board last week to increase the number of preschool programs by allocating an additional $240,000 in the budget, and he asked administrators for their opinion on his proposal. Assistant Superintendent Michael Cummings and Superintendent Elizabeth Feser said they hated to turn down an opportunity to increase programs, but they said they weren’t ready to make that leap.

Dr. Feser said the proposal raises a lot of questions. Should every child be given the opportunity for preschool? What of the families who cannot afford the minimal sliding scale payment associated with the current preschool program?

“We simply haven’t talked about it,” Feser said.

There are other questions, too, including the impact the proposal would have on some of Milford’s long-standing private preschools.

There have been school officials and education enthusiasts in Milford for many years who have taken up the cause of preschool education, even supporting scholarships to help Milford’s neediest children attend these programs. There doesn’t seem to be much argument over the value of preschool.

Professionals in the field, however, need to come up with a preschool plan or policy before any big changes occur. Certainly the school board can and should direct study into this area, but change has to be orderly and planned.

Residents have seen big changes in education in Milford in recent years, and they know that more changes are coming next year, the biggest of which will probably be changing the grade configurations.

Preschool, like those grade configurations, needs careful planning and discussion.