by Vonda Henderson for Forsyth Woman Magazine (September 2017)

Our children are our future.

As a community and as families, we want to help our children grow to reach their highest potential. It takes more than just parents and good parenting. It takes extended family, churches, social/sports activities, and educational resources.

Family Services is spearheading the Universal Pre-K Initiative, which has a goal to give children a developmental opportunity early in their lives toward that bright future we desire for them.

“The goal for the Universal Pre-K Initiative,” Bob Feikema, CEO and President of Family Services, shared, “is to make available to all four-year-old children in Forsyth County affordable, high quality pre-school. Studies indicate that four-year-olds who attend a high-quality development program arrive in kindergarten ready to learn and succeed in school.”

This initiative is a voluntary program targeting the approximately 4,500 four-year-olds in Forsyth County. The proposed student/teacher ratio is designed to provide a quality interaction and attention level. The educational level of the teaching staff is high; teachers are expected to have a BA/BS in early childhood education, and the assistant teachers are expected to have at least an associate degree in education.

The path to Universal Pre-K has progressed steadily over the past three years with a number of experts in the child development field contributing to a plan for implementation. A constant steering committee with seven work groups provides input in specific areas. The goal is to have the plan completed by the end of 2017 and to present to the Forsyth County community in 2018, possibly leading to putting a measure for local funding on the November 2018 ballot.

How will Universal Pre-K benefit the community?

  • Long-term benefits include fostering and nurturing a skilled and competent future workforce.
  • Attracting employers to the county by demonstrating a commitment to education at an early stage.
  • Developing capable and engaged individuals.
  • Investing in and supporting families of Forsyth County.
  • Making Forsyth County the best place in North Carolina for families with young children.

What are the Universal Pre-K Work Groups and their purposes?

“The Work Groups are currently developing a final plan for a universal Pre-K System in Forsyth County,” Bob shared.  “Each group has between six and ten members.  We will complete this planning phase before the end of 2017.”

What is the process for getting Universal Pre-K into Forsyth County?

Funding 
Calculate the cost and determine the means for funding a universal Pre-K system in Forsyth County.

  • Calculate the cost of the system
  • Create timetable for scaled implementation utilizing local and state revenue sources
  • Corporate/philanthropic support

Operations
Develop an operational Pre-K system with:

  • Appropriate facilities
  • Mix of providers
  • Recruitment and enrollment policies and practices that preserve parental choice and produce diversity in the classrooms

Public Engagement/Parent Involvement
Educate the general public regarding the benefits of universal Pre-K to mobilize support for measures to fund the system.

  • Inform and guide the development and implementation of the universal Pre-K public relations campaign
  • Organize a Speakers Bureau and provide educational materials for various audiences
  • Organize and support a “Parent Group” to provide input into the design of the universal Pre-K system and to advocate for its adoption
  • Recruit Parent Group members
  • Provide an informational workshop for Parent Group members regarding the various elements of the universal Pre-K and the campaign to establish the system
  • Support the development of parent leadership within the group
  • Coordinate parent advocacy activities with Public Policy and Public Engagement efforts.
  • Public Policy and Civic Leadership
  • Secure support for the establishment of the universal Pre-K System by civic leaders and elected officials.
  • Develop a referendum pertaining to local funding of universal Pre-K to be placed on the November 2018 ballot
  • Identify and support champions from various community sectors
  • Secure the support of elected officials at the state and local level

Quality
Establish the standards, elements, and components for the Pre-K program.

  • Curriculum(s)
  • Screening and Assessment
  • Family Engagement
  • Transitions
  • Teacher and Staff Compensation
  • Ensure the adoption of equitable of compensation practices across the system.

Workforce Education/Training
Ensure the availability of sufficient numbers of qualified teachers and staff

  • Address issues related to recruiting students into Pre-K education programs
  • Work with universities/colleges and Pre-K providers to ensure that new and current teachers have the knowledge and skills to perform effectively
  • Develop ways to support the professional development of center managers and administrators

Investing in our children is critical to their growth and development, as well as a positive statement on the value we place toward families in Forsyth County.

The Forsyth County Universal Pre-K Position Paper is available via the Family Services website. For information about Early Child Development and other programs offered through Family Services, contact them at 336.722.8173, toll-free 800.316.5513, via e-mail at info@familyservicesforsyth.org. Family Services’ main office is located at 1200 S. Broad Street. Their hours are Monday through Wednesday from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, Thursday from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm, and Friday from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm.