Equity has been a big push for the Watertown Public Schools, and Superintendent Dede Galdston said that part of giving students an equal opportunity is to provide universal Pre-kindergarten to the students of Watertown.
Galdston spoke of universal PreK during her talk a the 2020 Watertown Unity Breakfast, of which she was the honorary host. She said Martin Luther King Jr. not only inspired her with his Civil Rights work, but also in his study of education.
“Why not give every child equal opportunity to start school at an equal level?” Galdston said.
Offering universal PreK does not mean students are required to attend, Galdston said.
“Not everyone is going to enroll, you don’t have to, but anyone who wants to, come age 4, it’s available,” Galdston said in an interview. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca, who is also the Grade 5-12 math curriculum coordinator in Wakefield, said that education research shows that students who go to school before entering kindergarten have a leg up.
“It has been show that’s what’s best for kids,” Mosca said.
The idea of universal PreK is not a new one. It has been discussed at the state and federal and state levels, Galdston said, but has not become a reality.
She noted that communities have not always had to offer kindergarten, and it children are not required to attend school until they are 6 years old, which would be first grade.
Currently, Watertown has a PreK class at each elementary school. Starting next fall, the PreK classes, along with the district’s preschool program, will move to the Phillips Building (the former Phillips School). This is a precursor to the Early Childhood Center that will open when the new Hosmer Elementary School is built. A presentation about the Hosmer project from May 9, 2019 shows 13 classrooms devoted to early childhood education, with 11 PreK and two preschool classrooms.
Mosca said this means Watertown will be ready, should the opportunity arise.
“If the state offered money to allow students to go to PreK, if you don’t have the facilities, then you are stuck waiting,” Mosca said.
Funding is the one of the biggest sticking points. Galdston said there could be a way to do it, even if the state does not fund universal PreK.
“I would love to either reduce the cost or provide a sliding scale (based on income),” Galdston said. “We realize not everyone can afford PreK.”