Public preschool for all children in Forest Park might be “the potential to be one of the greatest single things we could do to improve student performance overall,” Superintendent Louis Cavallo told the Forest Park School District 91 school board at Thursday’s meeting.

Garfield Principal Jamie Stauder and preschool special education teacher Jane Calezone presented a plan to the board that would open six half-day classrooms of 10-15 students, age 3 and 4. The program would start in fall 2013 and be available to any student in the district. Currently, the district runs a special-needs preschool for children, 3 and up, as well as 4-year-old Junior Kindergarten.

The classes would take place at Garfield School, 543 Hannah Ave., Mondays through Thursdays, with Fridays at the Park District.

Stauder said that without hiring any new staff but only “moving people around” the district would be able to offer an “inclusive environment” preschool program with services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy and a social worker available for children with special needs.

“We tried to structure this outside the box,” Stauder told the board, stressing that parents needed a program that met consistently, five days per week. Teacher aides will accompany the students to the park district for more recreational activities, as well as crafts. Garfield teachers will use the Friday time to alternately prepare lessons, screen incoming students and meet with parents as needed, said Stauder, noting that in 18 months of visiting other preschool programs and researching “best practices,” the Creative Curriculum, endorsed by the Illinois State Board of Education, was the program they chose to use. Early childhood special-needs instructors already use an assessment tool in Creative Curriculum, she said.

“This curriculum honors the creativity of students and teachers,” Stauder said.

Pending the board’s approval, committee members said, they were prepared to heavily market the preschool program, starting in February. They presented a brochure to the board, which member Sean Blaylock pointed out should be in both English and Spanish.

Stauder presented a cost breakdown to the board of $89,200 for four teacher aides, explaining that one-time costs would be $12,264 for curriculum materials and preschool furniture for $10,849. A technology budget of $11,757 was proposed for tablets and whiteboards.

Board member Joan White said it would be important to make sure there was consistency between the school and park district programs. “I have concerns that it could become a big dodgeball thing on Friday,” she said.

But Stauder said aides would provide consistent adults for preschoolers and make sure the program is on track. She also said the West Suburban Special Recreation Assn. would be providing some programming for students with special needs.

Stauder also said the program will have a continuous admission process, so families moving to the district in the middle of the year can participate right away if they choose to.

Park district Director Larry Piekarz said he looks forward to working with D91.

“The schools approached us and we were excited,” he said. “[The new program] gets kids familiar with the park and gives kids a chance to learn outside the classroom.” The park already offers preschool-age classes taught by “Miss Sandy” [Byrnes].

Piekarz said partnering with WSSRA was also going to be great for the parks.

“[WSSRA] brings their Lekotek program, which is like a library of special toys too expensive for any single family to buy for a special-needs child.

“I’m glad the school came up with this idea to partner with us,” he said. “We need to be used as much as possible, and it keeps people working.”

School board members and Piekarz also said, looking ahead, that the program would help the park district design the space at the Roos Building, should the parks acquire it in the future.

The school board liked the program and will vote in a subsequent meeting.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...