In an effort to increase school enrollment, the South Bristol School Committee is exploring the possibility of a partnership with Damariscotta-based Coastal Kids Preschool.
The committee has been exploring school enrollment for the past several years, according to Central Lincoln County School System Superintendent Steve Bailey. The topic surfaced Feb. 15 during a joint meeting of the South Bristol Board of Selectmen, South Bristol Budget Committee, and the school committee to review the 2017-2018 education budget.
“One of the questions asked when we were in the budget review was, ‘If we continue to shrink, what are we going to do for our kids?’” Bailey said. “The school board got together afterward and said it would be good to have a conversation about what we can do to ensure a strong number of students going forward.”
During the committee’s meeting April 4, South Bristol School Principal Scott White presented the anticipated kindergarten enrollment for the next four school years. The school expects to gain one student for the 2017-2018 school year, two students each for 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, and five students for 2020-2021.
The South Bristol selectmen also attended the meeting and participated in a brainstorming session about the long-term plan for the school. One idea was to make transportation more accessible for students outside South Bristol who wish to attend SBS.
Another idea is to make high-speed internet a priority for the town, in an effort to encourage telecommuters to move to town. The selectmen told the school committee they have talked with an internet provider about improving the quality of service in town.
Most of the conversation centered around the possibility of providing public pre-kindergarten or paying tuition for South Bristol students to attend a pre-K program elsewhere, a discussion that has been taking place for a couple of years, Bailey said.
In March, Bailey was invited to tour Coastal Kids Preschool in Damariscotta. The preschool recently received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The school is a Maine Roads to Quality Level 4 program, the highest designation offered by the early care and education professional network.
Due to the number of South Bristol children who will be of pre-kindergarten age in the upcoming years, South Bristol and Coastal Kids could form a partnership in which the town would pay for pre-kindergarten residents to attend Coastal Kids, Bailey said.
The conversation with Coastal Kids is still “very much in the exploration phase,” Bailey said. He is scheduled to meet with Coastal Kids Preschool Executive Director Mimi Reeves to discuss the possibility of the partnership.
The selectmen asked what it would take for SBS to add a pre-kindergarten class.
While the school could set up its own program, one of the positives of a pre-kindergarten program is social interaction with peers, and South Bristol pre-K students wouldn’t have many peers to interact with, school committee Chair Sara Mitchell said.
An agreement between South Bristol and Coastal Kids would have to be reached before June for the partnership to be offered for the 2017-2018 year, Bailey said. In the meantime, White will put all the ideas discussed during the April 4 meeting into an action plan, which will be discussed during future meetings.
As the conversations continue, the town will continue to support the school “100 percent,” Selectman Ken Lincoln said.
“This school is wonderful, it really is,” Lincoln said. “I don’t think I would change anything except having more kids running around.”