Menlo Park school district considers fee-based preschool program

Students who can afford tuition would pay; others would get scholarships

Noting that studies find early childhood education can make a big difference in whether disadvantaged students succeed in school, the Menlo Park City School District is considering a fee-based preschool program that would offer scholarships to needy families.

At an April 18 meeting, board members were told that, if approved, the program would not begin until fall 2018. The plan is to pay all the costs of the preschool program with parent fees, with the amount set high enough to enable up to a quarter of students to receive full scholarships.

Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said there is an "overwhelming amount of evidence" on the value of early childhood education.

Assistant Superintendent Erik Burmeister said the tentative plan is to start in the fall of 2018 with 48 students in two classes operating five days a week, full-time and year-round.

The program would probably start at the Laurel School Lower Campus (95 Edge Road in Atherton), which has the best access, location, configuration and capacity, said Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's chief business and operations officer.

The preschool would give priority for admission to students living in the district, and siblings of students from East Palo Alto and Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood who attend the Menlo Park City School District schools as part of the Tinsley program. Next priority for admission would go to children of staff not living in the district.

A board subcommittee made up of board members Joan Lambert and Terry Thygesen, plus Mr. Burmeister and Mr. Ghysels, visited preschools including Bing Nursery School at Stanford University, a San Carlos School District preschool, All Five in Menlo Park and Educare in San Jose.

Mr. Burmeister said they were told the San Carlos program is loved by the community and prepares students for success in the school district. "They have a waiting list," he said. "This is a win/win for everybody."

He said research has shown that work to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and other students needs to start at ages 4 or 5. "We do have pockets of poverty and we do have pockets of academic need" in the district, he said. Mr. Burmeister said that about 6 percent of the district's students are considered economically disadvantaged.

The district could hire a preschool director during the 2017-18 school year using funds that have been set aside for one-time use for early childhood education, he said.

Carol Thomsen, founder of the All Five preschool in Menlo Park, told the board she thinks the plan is "very, very exciting and forward thinking."

"I think it's really important, and I think it's really hard (to do)," she said.

Ms. Thomsen said the district should be sure it has a very high quality program, with a teacher-to-student ratio of no more than one to eight. She also warned that if the district wants to attract the families in the Tinsley program, transportation will be a problem because many parents won't put young children on a bus.

Board member David Ackerman suggested the district try to pay the preschool teachers on par with its other teachers, which is more than usual. "It would allow us to steal the very best preschool teachers around," he said.

After the meeting, board member Joan Lambert said the district has been discussing opening a preschool for years. In late 2015 the board adopted as one of its strategic direction goals: "Design and develop programs that add value for future MPCSD families prior to their children entering kindergarten including the pursuit of early learning education options and resources for children ages zero to five."

"We realized that if we were going to be serious about trying to close the achievement gap we really needed to do something before kids enter kindergarten," she said. The district already has a summer preschool program for incoming kindergartners who need extra preparation. "We wanted to do as much as possible to have all kids be ready, socially and academically, for kindergarten," she said.

A preschool program was always meant to be self-sustaining, she said. "It was always intended not to encroach on the general fund," she said.

Parents have also asked for a preschool. "If we have excess space in our facilities ever, we want to use that in ways to best serve the community," she said. "I think it's very tough for parents around here now" to find preschools, she said.


Sign up for Express to get news updates. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


1 person likes this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2017 at 9:16 pm

David Ackerman suggested the district try to pay the preschool teachers on par with its other teachers, which is more than usual. "It would allow us to steal the very best preschool teachers around," he said.

Way to go David, got to teach the youngins at an early age the value of stealing. Perhaps you can use your vast professional education background to come up with a more appropriate euphemism.

9 people like this
Posted by Preschool Teacher
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 20, 2017 at 2:00 pm

I appreciate Mr. Ackerman's suggestion for paying preschool teachers on par with school district teachers. It is very hard to sustain a living as an early childhood educator in an area that has one of the highest costs of living. Mr. Ackerman, as a board member you had the perfect platform to provide reasons why you suggested this; the importance of what teachers do, the long history of inadequate pay, the impact teachers make on children, etc. Thanks to your obtuse comment about "stealing the very best preschool teachers," the serious need for better pay for preschool teachers was I'm sure quickly forgotten. I hope you realize that "the very best preschool teachers" are looking for more than just a good salary. It is also about working in a professional environment that respects and values what we do on a daily basis. If it was just about earning a living you would find yourself with no teachers at all. Please be mindful that as a board member, what comes out of your mouth needs to be thought through and chosen with care, just like how preschool teachers speak to their students!

Like this comment
Posted by Claudia Pinkus
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 20, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Ackerman you should resign. Unfit for this role. Man, you should engage brain before opening mouth.

Like this comment
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 11, 2017 at 12:13 pm

I would emphasize the part about the long waiting list. We have known for a long time that quality preschool education is not only humane, it saves money. It cuts crime, drug addiction and teen pregnancy. The research is clear. And yet build jails but don't fund universal preschool as so many other countries do.
Go figure.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

U-Pick at Webb Ranch
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,578 views

Modern Hospice Care and The Death of Ivan Ilyich
By Aldis Petriceks | 4 comments | 916 views

A community in the sand
By Cheryl Bac | 3 comments | 758 views

Couples: “It’s Not My Problem. It’s Your Problem.”
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 370 views