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Albemarle school division to take over Bright Stars program

The Albemarle County school division will take over the Bright Stars preschool program, ending a 26-year-old partnership between the school system and local government.

Bright Stars is the county’s public preschool program. Serving 4-year-olds, the program has been part of the county’s social services department and is funded by local government and the Virginia Preschool Initiative. In the coming school year, the school division will take over the financial management of the program.

Officials say the transition will be seamless and won’t affect services provided to families.

Maya Kumazawa, director of budget and planning for the division, told School Board members last week that the division would assume the leadership role of the Bright Stars program.

The division now will be responsible for applying for state preschool funds, known as the Virginia Preschool Initiative, as well as all programming and decision-making. The department of social services previously applied for and administered those funds.

The change follows a disrupted school year, with the pandemic forcing students to learn all-virtually for the first quarter. Grants from area organizations and additional funding from local government helped to ensure that students had learning materials and the necessary technology to participate remotely.

Additionally, the announcement comes as the Virginia Department of Education starts overseeing child care providers and makes other changes to form a unified early childhood system. Previously, the Virginia Department of Social Services licensed child care providers.

There are nine Bright Stars classrooms across six schools in Albemarle, according to a presentation at last week’s board meeting that detailed the change. The division also provides preschool to some children through the Early Childhood Special Education program.

“The benefits of assuming this role include being fully responsible for decisions about programming and beginning to integrate this program within our other preschool programs like Title I or Early Childhood Special Education,” Kumazawa said.

Historically, public preschool has been available to low-income families and others at risk of starting kindergarten behind their peers.

Preschool registration for the coming school year is under way. To register for area programs, go to go2grow.com. Local organizations work together to ensure that children in need of preschool have a spot with a local provider.

The division will continue to work with the social services department, according to the presentation. Division spokesman Phil Giaramita said social services will continue to support families in the program.

A team of family coordinators through social services has helped those in Bright Stars to access community services and resources as part of an effort to ensure safe and stable families, according to the program’s 2019 annual report.

Giaramita said moving Bright Stars to the school system was a joint decision between the local government and the school division.

“[It] actually puts us in line with nearly every other school division in the commonwealth,” he said. “We were, perhaps with Fairfax, the only school divisions to split the program between social services and the school division.”

For the coming school year, the revamped preschool program’s budget will be $1,310,459. The division is spending $700,000 to match the state funds and supplement the operating budget.

The planned expenses for the coming school year include 18.5 teachers and teaching assistants, a part-time coordinator and a part-time bookkeeper. The Department of Social Services will pay for five full-time positions in the program, according to county budget documents.

The additional $700,000 will be included in a budget amendment that the School Board will vote on next month.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Department of Social Services and the school division partnered in 1995 to provide preschool services. Local government has been funding the required local match while the school system provided in-kind services such as classrooms and teachers.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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