‘Exciting opportunity’ for districts

A new educational collaboration will benefit pre-school children in the Dunkirk and Fredonia school communities.

The Dunkirk City School and Fredonia Central School Districts are collaborating to create a combined universal pre-kindergarten program for students in both districts. This newly combined universal pre-k program will be housed in the Wheelock Primary School on Chestnut Street in Fredonia starting in September.

The Wheelock building was designed for primary students and will allow the districts to offer a developmentally appropriate program for their youngest students.

Staffing for this program will be provided by current Fredonia certified elementary teachers, teaching aides, a school nurse, support staff and an administrator.

The districts are not anticipating or budgeting for hiring additional staff for this program.

Occupying classrooms in an entire wing of the building, the combined universal pre-k program will offer morning and afternoon programming for students. The gym and age appropriate outdoor playgrounds will be available for the pre-k classes as well as a wrap-around care program. The pre-k classes will be composed of students from each district.

Wrap-around childcare will be offered by the Campus and Community Children’s Center at the Wheelock campus. CCCC is a licensed childcare program that operates as a tuition-based program for working families.

As a result of this collaboration the Wheelock building will be operating at full capacity as an early childhood education center. Buffalo Hearing and Speech, a current tenant of Wheelock, is expanding services and programs that will be available for students qualifying for services. Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES will also continue to rent space in the building for educational programming.

Dunkirk has traditionally contracted with outside service agencies to provide universal pre-k programming.

This opportunity for collaboration in universal pre-k programming services came out of discussions related to an application for funding through the NYS Local Government Efficiency Grant Program. The districts are seeking funding for a feasibility study to recommend areas of additional collaboration for increased efficiencies in operation including, but not limited to: educational programming, sports, purchasing, transportation, use of equipment, staff development and shared services.

The grant, due later this month, would allow the districts to have independent and objective consultants review aspects of operations and educational programs to recommend areas of collaboration that would reduce expenditures.

“The combined universal pre-k program is an example of what can be accomplished through collaboration and discussion. The award of this grant would provide us with recommendations to move forward to save money and provide quality educational programming,” Dunkirk Superintendent of Schools Gary Cerne said.

Dunkirk will continue to contract for universal pre-k transportation. Fredonia will follow its practice of drop-off at the Wheelock campus. Registration information will be placed on each district’s website by mid-March.

Dunkirk Schools had rented Wheelock to house their elementary programs during a recent capital project.

“The Wheelock campus offers an ideal environment for pre-k instruction and programming. I am excited that this opportunity is available for our families and school communities.” Cerne said.

For Fredonia, the creation of the combined program will alleviate some of the traffic and building congestion during drop-off times and solve the dilemma of the lack of a pre-k playground at the Main Campus.

“This is an exciting opportunity to create a universal pre-k program for children in both of our districts to learn and grow together. This is the beginning of a collaboration that is filled with promise and opportunity to improve programming for students and increase fiscal efficiencies in our districts,” Fredonia Superintendent of Schools Paul DiFonzo said.

“We appreciate Dunkirk’s willingness to be creative and work together to meet the needs of students in both of our districts,” DiFonzo said.