News

Off to a good start

Menlo Park school district's preschool marks end of first semester

Will, Kyle and Owen make snowflakes out of glitter, glue and popsicle sticks. (Photo by Magali Gauthier/The Almanac)

After a single semester in operation, Menlo Park City School District's new preschool is already "a home away from home" for children to "experience wonder and engage their curious minds," according to the program's director.

The preschool, called the Early Learning Center, or ELC, opened at Laurel School Lower Campus in Atherton on Aug. 24. Teachers use project-based learning with six-week curriculum themes for children just under 3 years old to 5 years old.

"The kids are really happy and the teachers are really involved," said ELC Director Jessica Mihaly. "We're excited to be part of something new."

Each classroom has 22 students and a lead teacher, assistant teacher and a preschool aide. The two classes have their own names: The older students are part of the Hummingbirds classroom; the younger students are part of the Doves.

ELC parent Nicole Fabrikant said her son comes home from school singing songs he learned and re-enacting stories that are read.

"He also comes home wanting to show us all that he has learned: from correctly identifying the first letter of a word -- based on the sound that the letter makes to lining up objects and talking about their sizes relative to one another, to counting objects by groups," Frabikant wrote in an email.

Another parent said her daughter adjusted to the preschool quickly.

"New country, new home, new language and the first time full day at daycare," wrote parent Julia Arslanova in an email. "But the teachers and the director were so caring and attentive, that after only three weeks in, she did not want to leave the center. And it was such a relief for me as a working mom."

A diverse group

The school is striving to provide a unique, high-quality early education for a group of children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The district plans to subsidize tuition for 25 percent of the preschoolers on a sliding scale based on family income. Right now, 12 students, or 22 percent, receive scholarships to attend the preschool, Mihaly said. The remaining students are charged market-rate tuition, which covers all the preschool's operating costs.

Nineteen children, or 35 percent of students, are English-language learners, speaking French, Russian, Estonian, Mandarin and Spanish, she said.

"Preschool and the early years provide a foundation for a child's later growth and development," said Mihaly, who spearheaded the Silicon Valley Community Foundation's reading initiative, The Big Lift, before launching the preschool. "They are more likely to do better in life and school."

The names of the preschool students will be entered into a district database, where the district can track how older students who attended the ELC do compared with students who didn't attend.

At ELC, students learn to master handwriting skills through a program called "Writing Without Tears." Counting and reading are part of the curriculum. Students also "learn to feel safe and supported" in a school environment and learn how to be a good friend, Mihaly said.

Children bring a piece of fruit or a vegetable to class every day, which the teacher cuts and puts in a bowl to share with others during snacktime. It's an opportunity for students to try new food, she said.

Special education students from Laurel School Lower Campus visit ELC and participate in activities. It's another aspect of ELC's diversity and inclusion, she said.

Challenges

Mihaly said one of the biggest challenges was retrofitting the program's building for preschoolers. Construction workers dug deep into the ground to build tot-sized toilets in the building that formerly housed second-grade classrooms.

Another challenge? The startup aches and pains of beginning a new program, she said.

But because the program is so new, the preschool works with families and teachers to ensure that it "works well for everyone," she said.

Growing the program

About 106 students were in the lottery for the 2018-19 school year and the preschool enrolled 54. Students come from Palo Alto, Redwood City, East Palo Alto and other nearby communities, Mihaly said. Full-day classes run from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and afternoon classes are from 1:30 to 5 p.m. (with care available until 6 p.m.).

The district may expand the program to 72 students next school year, and is exploring opening an ELC classroom at Oak Knoll School at that time as well. It's surveying Oak Knoll families to gauge interest in the addition.

There's also a question on the registration form for 2019-20 that allows families to indicate interest in the Oak Knoll site.

Further down the line? The center isn't specifically named a preschool for a reason -- to leave the option open to expand to include infants and toddlers. This would be labor-intensive though, Mihaly said.

"If the demand is there, and the space is there, we will expand," she said.

More information

Registration for next school year opened Nov. 1 for children born between Sept. 1, 2014, and Dec. 1, 2016. The application period closes on Feb. 15.

For more information, go here.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Ally
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2019 at 11:08 am

The ELC sounds like another great option for child-care, I’m also happy to see children who are eligible for the Tinsley program get priority. Menlo Park City School District is surely setting an example to the other districts in the Bay Area.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 31, 2019 at 4:42 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.


It appears that this is a "childcare center" encroaching upon operations of private childcare centers. "MPCSD’s Early Learning Center is licensed by and follow all regulations of the California Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing." I would like to hear from operators of those private centers.


8 people like this
Posted by Children First, not profits first
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 31, 2019 at 4:59 pm

>> I would like to hear from operators of those private centers.

Says the libertarian that thinks all schools should be run as for-profits.

But please, go interview them. Getting out of your sphere/shell/bubble may be very beneficial for you. Rock on, Jack...


4 people like this
Posted by GIGO
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2019 at 5:44 pm

And Cranky Pants Hickey strikes yet again, talking about things he knows nothing about.

Fortunately for San Mateo County, he's just another guy on the internets, and not an elected official...


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 1, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

"The district plans to subsidize tuition for 25 percent of the preschoolers on a sliding scale based on family income. Right now, 12 students, or 22 percent, receive scholarships to attend the preschool, Mihaly said. The remaining students are charged market-rate tuition, which covers all the preschool's operating costs."

What is included in "operating costs"?

See: ELC TUITION AND TUITION ASSISTANCE for some facts. Web Link

This is an enterprise operation.
Spaces will be distributed as follows:
75% Full fee spaces
25% Scholarship spaces
Eligibility: Web Link

2018-19 Tuition
Tuition for the full-day program is $2,200 per month
Tuition for the part-day program is $1,200 per month

Families earning less than the following amounts per year are eligible to enter the lottery for a scholarship (Based on 80% of Area Median Income for San Mateo County):

Family of 4: $105,350

Fees for families receiving a scholarship will be based on income and will range from $52 to $877 a month for the full-day program and $26 to $439 for the part-day program.

This looks like a scheme to fill the classrooms built to accomodate enrollment predictions which failed to materialize. In the past, this was accomplished by class size reductions.


6 people like this
Posted by GIGO
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 2:53 pm

...Aaaaaaaaaaaand Cranky Pants Hickey just can't leave well enough alone. No, he has to double down on his inability to *truly* understand a given situation.

You really, really need to find yourself a new hobby, Hickey -- something where you can get out and meet people not like you...who knows, you might learn something in the process...


4 people like this
Posted by Anita Fy
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 1, 2019 at 3:21 pm

Helping children and working families is now a "scheme"?

Who is this guy?


6 people like this
Posted by GIGO
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 3:28 pm

Anita Fy -- Jack Hickey is one of the (far too many) "libertarians" in this area, who somehow believes that EVERYTHING that the government does should be done by private companies.

Never mind that government is in place to do what private enterprise will not, or can not, do. That doesn't figure in his matrix at all.

Combine that with a complete lack of empathy (and possibly humanity), and you get posts like the one you mention.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Amazing what a few facts, which should have been included in the original story, can do to stimulate intelligent discussion!

My e-mail to Eric Burmeister,
Subject: Early Learning Center as an Enterprise operation

Eric, I am following, with interest, the Almanac’s Town Square Forum Topic Web Link relating to the MPCSD Early Learning Center.
Is this a new venture into “Enterprise” operations, or have you done this elsewhere?This has great potential! You could incorporate it into other classes to provide the 7:30 AM to 6 PM feature for a fee. Why don’t you, or your staff join the dialogue on the Forum. Full transparency would be refreshing.

Erik's response:

Thanks for reaching out, Jack.

There is lots of history in our board minutes from the last three years that details the journey of how and why the Early Learning Center came to be. I have not done 'enterprise' efforts elsewhere. This is our first go at it as an organization and my first personally in the public education space. That said, we did not engage in it in order to create an enterprise, we engaged in it to address what research confirms is the most effective way to address the achievement gap--start before kindergarten.

We do have after school enterprise programs available for all ages, just not run by the school district. The benefits are limited for us to run those on our own. The preschool's extended day is a function of demand and availability of the staff to provide.

I have asked our Public Information Officer to take a look at the dialogue and to add any information that may be helpful.

Hope you are well.

Regards,
Erik


4 people like this
Posted by GIGO
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:27 pm

Jack Hickey -- "Amazing what a few facts, which should have been included in the original story, can do to stimulate intelligent discussion!"

Too bad you don't realize that you were COMPLETELY blown off in Mr. Burmeister's response. But I guess that should come as no surprise for someone who doesn't let actual facts get in the way of a rant...


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 1, 2019 at 5:06 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

I have a question for the MPCSD PIO, who should be monitoring this Topic;

What is the extent of state and federal funding for this program?


12 people like this
Posted by GIGO
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 5:08 pm

Jack Hickey -- "What is the extent of state and federal funding for this program?"

I'm sure it's a whole lot less than the cost to the American taxpayer for -45's trips to Mar-A-Lago...


10 people like this
Posted by Children First, not profits first
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 1, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Helping children overcome the achievement gap - such a worthy goal! Thank you, Erik Burmeister and staff!

(Jack - consider at least spelling the gentleman's name correctly. Then get out of his hair and let them get back to serving children. Your impeding of good non-profits with your 'death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts' strategy is detestable.)


4 people like this
Posted by MPCSD Public Information Officer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 4, 2019 at 1:02 pm

MPCSD Public Information Officer is a registered user.

Please contact the district at info@mpcsd.org if you have questions about the Early Learning Center or any of the Menlo Park City School District's programs. MPCSD does not make it a practice to moderate or respond in the Town Square, but welcomes inquiries directly.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 7, 2019 at 11:31 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Response from Parke Treadway MPCSD Public Information Officer to my queries:
"We don't require state or federal funding for the Early Learning Center. Some one-time facility funds were used to retrofit the space and order furniture, in addition to many donations from the community of toys, books, and other supplies. The operation of the program is self sustaining via its tuition fees."

Question: "How do you account for the classroom space, utilities etc.? What is the fair rental value of that space including utilities?

Response: "When the School Board made the commitment to open the ELC, they decided that there would be no facilities costs to the ELC. The ELC is billed by the district for indirect costs such as maintenance, cleaning, and payroll."

Each classroom has 22 students and a lead teacher, assistant teacher and a preschool aide. Fifteen students paying $2,200/month = $33,000/month.
Add 7 scholarship students at $500/month tuition(my estimate) and we get a total of $36,500/month. Private daycare operators, provided with similar facility arrangements, could charge much less for tuition.

This is unfair competition.


6 people like this
Posted by Children First, not profits first
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 7, 2019 at 1:20 pm

PUBLIC Schools providing early education. How is that unfair to for-profits? The for-profits'entire reason for existence is PROFIT, in this case, on warehousing children as profitably as they can.

Is this really the hill you wanna 'fight' on? At least with the district, you had a arguable case that many could understand, despite the tone-deafness of your presentation.

No wonder Grover and the Bush's kicked the fringe libertarians out of the GOP a couple decades ago. Y'all can't see your arguments through a normal person's eyes.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 7, 2019 at 2:01 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Response from Parke Treadway MPCSD Public Information Officer:
I've linked the ELC presentation made by Director Jessica Mihaly to the Board at its January 15 meeting. "Web Link
You can see a budget summary within the report. Our intention is not to create competition with other centers. Rather we aim to fill a dire need for more high quality preschool spots in the area, and offer high quality preschool to families who may lack access to it otherwise, in an effort to begin closing the readiness gap among children starting kindergarten. Our tuition was set after studying the range of tuition at local centers; we are within with that range. We also commit to hiring exceptionally qualified teachers and paying them a fair wage."

Excellent link. See year-to-year tuition comparisons on page 24 and 26. Note that Phillips Brooks is dropping tuition by 16%, Trinity School by 11% and Crescent Park by 11%.

MPCSD Early Learning Center increased 7%.
San Carlos School District increased 10%

I don't know where these numbers came from, but the subject area is worth tracking. And, I don't know which are for profit. I'll leave that research to others.

MPCSD Early Learning Center should raise their tuition to cover fair rental value of the facility.


4 people like this
Posted by So Fo So Good
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 7, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Libertarians think money should be made off of everything.

Disgusting.


8 people like this
Posted by GIGO
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2019 at 4:56 pm

You know, Hickey -- you REALLY need to something else with your life.

Because, quite honestly, you know zip about education.

Maybe, just maybe, you should go back to work selling office supplies. And comment only on that.


8 people like this
Posted by orchid
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 5:24 pm

Helping children in our community is a "scheme"? On what planet do you reside?


2 people like this
Posted by GIGO
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2019 at 6:16 pm

orchid -- Hickey comes from Planet Paul (as in Ron and Rand), where the government is evil (unless you can use it to your own ends), and where you put out a collection jar at your local 7-11 to finance care for a major medical condition...


Like this comment
Posted by don't worry about it,
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 8, 2019 at 1:37 am

don't worry about it, is a registered user.

Don't worry, if it's a public school built in Menlo Park it will be 5 stars,

Check out Hillview Middle School as an example


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