Fredonia-Dunkirk pre-K program ending following first year

After launching its first year, the Fredonia-Dunkirk combined universal pre-kindergarten program will end at the conclusion of the current school year.

Fredonia Superintendent Paul DiFonzo gave the announcement during Tuesday’s board of education meeting after officially finding out about it earlier that day.

“I think because information might get out, I need to let everyone know that our wonderful UPK program, which we’ve been partnering with Dunkirk on, will be ending,” he said as a final announcement. “Unfortunately, I found out from Dunkirk (Tuesday) that they’re not going to continue that with us next year.”

After the meeting, DiFonzo told the OBSERVER he believes the partnership between the two schools has been “extremely successful.”

“If you actually go down and visit the program (at the Wheelock Primary School) while it’s in action, the Fredonia and Dunkirk students blend and work well together, and I think it’s a shame it’s coming to an end,” he said. “We’ve really enjoyed working with the students being together and the teachers have done a fabulous job.”

Dunkirk Superintendent Gary Cerne informed the OBSERVER during a phone interview after the meeting that a number of factors came into play for Dunkirk to decide not to renew the agreement with Fredonia.

“It’s nicer for our families to be local,” he said. “We appreciate the opportunity Mr. DiFonzo offered us this past year, but we’ve got a plan and we’ve got smaller class sizes now and we’ve got some rooms freed up where we think we can house pre-K ourselves.”

With Dunkirk moving its pre-K program back home, Cerne explained the district is poised to receive state monies to help fund that program. Fredonia currently receives all that money as part of the combined program since it is held at the Wheelock School.

Cerne also addressed what Dunkirk will do for its pre-K students for the 2014-2015 school year.

“The plan right now is to have two sections, morning and afternoon, in three classrooms. So, there will be two sections in a classroom in School 4, School 5 and School 7, making it six sections for Dunkirk’s pre-kindergarten program,” he explained.

The Dunkirk superintendent concluded his comments by praising the combined program while it lasted.

“We were very happy at Wheelock and we were happy working with Mr. DiFonzo. We appreciate all he did for us this year,” he said. “I think it’s just a little nicer for our folks to be back home. We have an opportunity to bring it home and make it even a little more convenient for our parents.”

Last month, Cerne announced Dunkirk was denied its full-day pre-K grant to help it fund a program that would last longer throughout the day. That denial did not impact Dunkirk’s decision to bow out of the combined program, according to Cerne, since it was already divided up into two half-day sessions.

According to numbers at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, around 120 children are signed up for the Fredonia-Dunkirk pre-K program.

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