Guest Blog: Willyn Webb, CSI Early Learning and School Support Coordinator

Preschool Support at CSI Schools

As CSI schools navigate the first year of Colorado’s Universal Preschool initiative, I’ve been working to provide guidance and integral support along the way. As CSI’s Early Learning and School Support Coordinator, I support CSI school staff through one-on-one consultation, school visits, and a bi-weekly preschool leader group. I communicate regularly with staff through a monthly Ready Set, READ newsletter, and podcast episodes that include updates, research, and inspiration.

What is “Universal Preschool”? 

Universal Preschool (UPK) Colorado is a new program offering free preschool education for a single school year before children start kindergarten. Every 4-year-old in Colorado qualifies for a half-day (15 hours) of free preschool, and those meeting two qualifying criteria are eligible for 30 hours a week or full-day preschool. Twelve CSI charter public schools are currently participating in the UPK program. Within the mixed delivery system, these preschools have the flexibility to collect tuition for the remaining portion of the day beyond the UPK allocation while also benefiting from state funding. 

CSI school preschool leaders have been flexible and positive throughout the UPK first-year rollout. I’ve been impressed with how each preschool has prioritized communicating with families and doing what is best for students! Every preschool enrolled in the UPK program receives support from Local Coordinating Organizations (LCOs). This structure aims to merge the statewide organizational process with a local community perspective. 

Brianna Myers, Preschool Director of Salida Montessori Charter School, shared her experience, stating, “Our LCO has been great. She came to our preschool, learned about our model, and is very helpful every time I contact her. She provides excellent information in a timely way.” 

Additionally, the Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC) offers capacity-building grants and various other funding opportunities, distinct from CDE competitive grants. Chen Hong from AXIS International noted, “CDEC grants are easy to complete and [require significantly less time compared to CDE grants].”

Supporting UPK Participation 

CSI has worked to support its schools in UPK participation this year. 

New Preschools within the CSI Portfolio

Among the twelve CSI schools currently participating in UPK, two new preschools began operating in the 23-24 school year. 

  •  Academy of Arts and Knowledge in Fort Collins added a preschool in the fall of 2023 and has successfully integrated it into their school. During my recent visit to AAK, school leader, Nichole Schlagel, remarked, “The preschool has enhanced the culture of our entire school!”
  • Mountain Juniper Montessori is a newly opened Wildflower micro-school in Aurora operating as a mixed-grade classroom of 3 and 4-year-olds and serving as a UPK provider.
AAK

Nichole Schlagel with preschool students during a movement break.

MJM

MJM Teacher Leader, Martha Briggs, works on sorting with preschool student. 

CSI CPP Preschools 

Five CSI preschools previously participated in the Colorado Preschool Program through CDE. Now, they are UPK preschools!

Fully Tuition-based Preschools

There were also five preschools associated with CSI schools that were fully tuition-based. All chose to participate in UPK, saving families over $4,000 per year and making the school a possibility for more families.

Preschool Director at The Academy of Charter Schools, Amy Jackon, shared, “Participating in the UPK program has allowed for a “more diverse demographic than [The Academy] has had in previous years…[enhancing] learning and culture for all.”

The Academy

The Academy of Charter Schools leader, Brent Reckman, UPK Director, Dawn ODean, and preschool director, Amy Jackson

Salida Montessori

Preschool students at Salida Montessori Charter School

AXIS

Preschool students at AXIS International Academy

Looking Forward: Preschool in 2024

 

New UPK Preschools Coming Fall of 2024

Grand Junction will welcome Cactus Bloom Community School, a Wildflower microschool featuring a blended-grade Montessori model approach, in the fall of 2024. Also, Ross Montessori School in Carbondale will be opening a preschool in the fall of 2024 to meet the needs of their community and offer the Montessori program to younger students. Additionally, University Prep is set to open a preschool in Commerce City with plans to add a grade each year. 

CSI Preschool Panel at the CLCS Conference

I will be facilitating a session at the Colorado League of Charter Schools, entitled, “UPK: A Collection of Insights from Year-One,” that will feature CSI preschools representing the various experiences: CPP to UPK, Private Pay Only to UPK, and brand new, UPK.

This session will be a valuable experience to learn about Universal Preschool (UPK) from a range of perspectives from charter public school leaders, board members, preschool directors, and some who are both. The panel, representing both rural and metro preschools, will address the first year of UPK. From developing a new preschool to converting others, the panel will share what they learned about licensing, enrollment, the UPK online platform, grants, family experiences, funding, special education, and mixed delivery choices through matching. Attendees will gain insight into the new Colorado Department of Early Childhood and their Local Coordinating Organization with unbiased and real perspectives along with helpful information, resources, and tips for success.

If you plan to be at the conference, join us on February 27th at 1:30 PM in the Cottonwood room.

Continuing Creative Support for CSI Preschools

The Ready, Set, READ podcast was added this year in response to the busy schedules of CSI schools’ staff. It provides a 15-minute opportunity to explore success stories within the CSI portfolio, connect with fellow early learning educators, and gather practical ideas for immediate use. Our collection of podcast episodes includes interviews with CSI Executive Director, Dr. Terry Croy Lewis, CSI School Programs team members, CSI school staff and leaders, and other education leaders!  

Explore the most recent episode featuring Tina Jajdelski from Community Leadership Academy. Dive into her insights from her WestED experience and the importance of the Birth to 12th Comprehensive State Literacy Grant. Additionally, discover the significance of integrating preschool to enhance Kindergarten school readiness and foster a positive school culture!

Ready Set Read Podcast
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