As the process begins for a new early childhood facility, Sedalia School District 200 officials all seem to agree the new project is needed for the community.
The Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to move forward with plans for the construction of a new facility to serve Pettis County students. As Superintendent Steve Triplett said at the meeting, the decision is one of need and timing.
“With the expansion of industry to our community, we feel that we need to act now to stay ahead of our anticipated student growth,” he told the Democrat. “Space is always an issue in most of our buildings and our Co-op building is no exception.”
There are 182 students served at the Co-op, located in the south wing of the Sedalia Middle School, and an additional 109 students on the waiting list for Title One Preschool.
“The Early Childhood Cooperative in Sedalia accomplishes great things for the young students and their parents in Pettis County,” said Assistant Superintendent Chris Pyle, who is in charge of Special Services. “The Co-op provides free services to 3- and 4-year-old children who qualify for special education as determined by the evaluation process for Title One preschool for the students who show a delay in the development as noted through the screening process.”
In total four programs are run through the Co-op:
• Title One preschool (Sedalia students only).
• Early Childhood Special Education serving the six school districts in Pettis County: Sedalia 200, Green Ridge R-VIII, La Monte R-IV, Pettis County R-V (Northwest), Smithton R-VI and Pettis County R-XII (Dresden).
• Parents as Teachers (serving the six school districts).
• School District Administrative Claiming-Medicaid (Sedalia 200 only).
Of the 182 students, 126 are receiving special services, according to Principal Grace Kendrick.
“There is no limit on the number of ECSE students we can serve,” Kendrick said. “Federal law (IDEA) states if a student qualifies for special education services and are age 3, they are eligible to enroll.”
According to Kendrick, total enrollment at the facility may rise to 230 by the end of the school year as students are enrolled throughout the year as they qualify. There is a cap of 80 students on the Title One preschool program due to both funding and space limitations.
Kendrick said because of a lack of space, the staff combines two classes in five of the eight classrooms. The ratio of adults to students varies based on student needs.
Those needs are determined by state and federal guidelines, according to Pyle, and include students meeting the criteria for Young Child with a Developmental Delay or any of the other eligibilities including autism, deafness or blindness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, speech/language impairments or traumatic brain injury.
“Studies show that the years prior to kindergarten can be the most important time periods for the foundation needed for learning and future success in school,” Pyle said. “Children with special needs require early support to provide them an opportunity to succeed in the learning process and to develop essential life skills. The children served in these types of programs present high needs.”
Meeting those needs at times can be difficult because of the current facility’s limitations.
“There is one common bathroom in the hallway for the girls and one for the boys and is used by students and staff,” Kendrick said. “This is problematic on many accounts – parents are in the building each day to review testing results and participate in goal planning meetings with staff upon student enrollment and thereafter have to use those facilities.
“Other family members and community patrons are in the building often for special events including parent family nights and parent/teacher conferences,” she continued. “Toilet training is a part of the daily routine for many of our children and it is difficult when students have to walk a long distance to the restroom.”
Kendrick said a staff member has to accompany students to the restroom, which takes them away from the rest of the students. Additionally, many students are in diapers and there is only one changing table in each of the two bathrooms.
“Not only is the distance to the restroom an issue but due to the mobility concerns of several of our little students, manipulating stairs a few times a day to get to the restroom or gym is very difficult,” Kendrick said. “Our gym space is in the basement and while stairs are useful for some physical therapy, they are an obstacle for many students.”
The playground area, which is across the street, creates another set of issues as moving students, especially those with wheelchairs, walkers or other devices, can pose difficulties.
There are other concerns that Kendrick noted including:
• Small classrooms, especially when combining two classrooms together with 20 students and two teachers and possibly paraprofessionals, occupational therapists, physical therapists or speech pathologists.
• Five staff members share an office space that is also used as a conference area for parents.
• No bathrooms or water accessibility in the classrooms.
• No storage space for materials.
• No awnings or shelter for arrival/dismissal for parents and children including accessibility limitations for buses and parents who transport their children.
Administrators will address those concerns with architects from Porter, Berendzan & Associates, which has been retained to design the new facility.
With an approved initial budget of $7.15 million, including a $1 million donation from an anonymous donor, the district will be “able to absorb the cost of the new building without having to seek additional contributions from local taxpayers,” Triplett said.
The district plans to have the facility open for the start of the 2020-21 school year.