- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

NEWARK, Ark. (AP) - With the construction of a new preschool, the Cedar Ridge School District aims to strengthen kindergarten readiness in the district’s young students.

The Three Rivers Edition (https://bit.ly/2gCtoxe ) reports Cedar Ridge Early Childhood is planned to open by fall 2017.

“It’s the foundation of everything we do,” Superintendent Andy Ashley said of preschool education. “The kids who don’t go to preschool, there’s many times a deficit there that the elementary school has to try to overcome.”

Using second lien bonds that the district had before Ashley’s arrival as superintendent, the district will spend about $1.7 million on the roughly 8,000-square-foot school. The district has partnered with Lewis Elliott & Studer Architectural Firm in Little Rock and Nabholz Construction’s Jonesboro office.

Lori Goings, preschool director, said the expectations for preschool education led to the idea to create a new preschool in the district.

“There were just a lot of standards and regulations for preschool and a good-quality preschool,” said Goings, who has been in her role nine years. “In order to meet those standards, you need to have a certain type of structure and room space and different things to meet the quality needs of little children.”

The district currently has two preschools, one in Charlotte and one in Oil Trough. Ashley said the Oil Trough facility will close, and those 48 students and their teachers will switch to the new center.

“It has the potential to expand; it’ll just depend on our numbers,” Ashley said of the number of teachers the new center will have. “We’ve built it to be able to house all of our students and additional students. We’re hoping that we build it for something that will grow, not just what we need right now.”

For now, there are no plans for what will happen to the Oil Trough facility because there could be delays to the planned site that will require the Oil Trough preschool to remain open, Ashley said.

A groundbreaking has not been set for the new site of the preschool, which will be near Newark Elementary School. Ashley said district officials are waiting to learn of the date the steel frame for the school can be delivered, and a groundbreaking will be scheduled about four to six weeks after that.

Goings said preschool education is important because during the first five years of life, a child needs a caring and nurturing environment in which to learn and develop. Preschool education also helps children be more on track for kindergarten, she added.

“We learn through play,” she said. “We have a certain type of curriculum that is state-approved. . We use books - lots of books - and lots of language, and lots of music, and lots of routine. It helps them with their motor skills and their social skills and their everyday health and safety. Health and safety is first and foremost.”

Ashley said the building will serve 120 children from toddlers to 4-year-olds. It will have seven classrooms that will each have two toilets for children and a classroom wash basin for hand-washing.

Ashley said the school could also have up to two transition rooms for its youngest toddlers. Transition rooms are rooms for younger students before they move into a classroom with more of their peers.

“(It is) basically a transition from home where the ratio is very small - one adult to one to two children - before they go into a classroom with 20 students,” Ashley said.

There will also be controlled access that requires visitors to be buzzed in to enter.

“That’s a feature that will be nice to restrict the access to outsiders,” Ashley said.

While the preschool in Charlotte is attached to an elementary school, Oil Trough’s preschool is a stand-alone site, which led to the decision to close it, Ashley said.

Ashley said the opening of a preschool near Newark Elementary will be easier for families with children at both schools.

“The other two buildings are older facilities,” he said. “This is going to be a brand-new building. I think it’ll be a nice transition for parents (to) in the same drive drop off their preschool kid and drop off their elementary kid.”

Ashley, former principal of Vilonia High School, said he’s lived through tornadoes, and he hopes the campus will feature amenities to keep students safe.

“We’re going to apply for the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant,” he said. “If we get that, we’d love to have the opportunity to build a safe room near the preschool for the community and the district to use.”

Goings said the proximity of the new center to Newark Elementary School will also give the preschool access to Newark’s school nurse and resource officer. Goings said a waiting list for the new preschool has already begun, and interested families can add their children to the list.

“As long as they’re safe and happy, then they’re going to learn,” she said. “They’re going to grow.”


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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