Guam - It's been sitting with the legislature since February. Bill 274 was introduced five months ago to begin establishing pre-k in the island's public school system. It is also part of the governor's ten point plan which he rolled out during his February State of the Island Address. Even though the legislation awaits action the Department of Education continues planning for its implementation.
Although though Bill 274 was introduced five months ago - its clear universal pre-k won't be implemented this school year. Instead the Department of Education will continue to develop the plan for the Early Childhood Education Program or the Pre-Kindergarten Program. You may recall Senator Ailene Yamashita introduced the legislation in February to implement a state preschool program and although it is still in bill form, DOE superintendent Jon Fernandez is planning ahead.
He said, "We have been discussing our efforts to really invest in early childhood education so in this budget we expect to see a significant boost to help in those efforts this first year the school year will be more of a planning year and investment in trying to get the necessary facility fixes, supplies and materials and all sorts of things for the coming school year."
Over the next year they will detail what needs to happen, where these classrooms will be and what challenges will need to be addressed to ensure that DOE has qualified teachers in place as well as the supplies and materials.
"Because you know you can't just stick them in a regular classroom there has to be certain changes made to make sure we are in compliance with any regulatory requirements we are going to need if we are going to have bathrooms in these classrooms they are going to need to be equipped for our youngest kids," he said.
According to Fernandez the Pre-K Program will provide more opportunities for four year olds to have them caught up with where they need to be in kindergarten. "The investment in our youngest children is going to pay dividends when they are older get them caught to where they need to be in kindergarten ensure that the achievement gap doesn't grow and at the end of the day result in more productivity from our kids," he said.
As part of the planning stage the department will also have to select a curriculum but Fernandez says they will not be starting from scratch, saying, "I think what I would like to do is not build everything from scratch so we have a head start model which is really of the academic, social and developmental needs that are needed by our kids so that investment in head start we hope to expand the same types of services our other kids."
Fernandez says they must look at both programs and how they can inter-relate to better blend and leverage local and federal funds to serve our island kids.