Midsummer, the Hey Diddle Diddle classroom at the Mitchell Early Learning Center was a meeting room. But thanks to DMPS School Board member Rob Barron, it was the site Thursday morning for one of life’s most poignant rites of passage: the very first first day of school for a fresh batch of four-year-olds.
Frustrated with the state’s funding formula for preschool and determined to whittle down the district’s waiting list for pre-k education that data proves makes a dramatic difference in kindergarten readiness, Barron decided to eliminate the middlemen. He wrote an op-ed piece for the Des Moines Register in June, taking his case directly to the community to raise enough funds for an additional 40 preschoolers at Mitchell. By mid-July, he’d crossed the threshold necessary to hire a teacher and register 20 kids for the morning session and another 20 for the afternoon. Now there’s no going back.
“We’ve raised about half of the $125K it takes to add a class,” Barron said Thursday morning at Mitchell as he watched nervous but excited kids and parents who wouldn’t have been there otherwise file inside. “This is one-time funding. Once we establish a new classroom the state will pick up the funding for it going forward so when these kids move on to kindergarten next year, another group will take their places.”
DMPS Early Childhood Programs Administrator Susie Guest, whose title ought to be Preschool Funding Jigsaw Puzzler, was pleased to watch the teacher she hired, Amy Timms, welcome her Hey Diddle Diddlers to class.
“The first 2,000 days of a child’s life are so critical to their futures,” Guest said. “Our research shows that kids who experience our preschools are twice as likely to be kindergarten ready as kids who don’t.”
Timm’s students tentatively gathered around a play center but quickly settled in. Within minutes, Hugo was designing with Lego and Brylee was building with blocks. Two by two, parents murmured goodbyes, blew kisses, bumped fists and dispensed hugs calibrated to last all morning.
“This is beautiful,” said Barron, looking on with an expression like he’d just jumped over a moon – or a flawed state funding formula.
Waiting lists are for trendy restaurants, not “universal” preschool, which is what the state legislature nominally established a decade ago. And the primary responsibility of school boards is to efficiently steward finite resources allocated by lawmakers, not raise additional ones themselves when those allocations are inadequate.
Anyone able and willing to go above and beyond their duty as a taxpayer, just as Barron has as a board member, to help retire the district’s preschool waiting list, is welcomed to join the effort. Donations may be made through this online fundraiser or contact Barron directly at Rob.Barron@dmschools.org