Whiting to host a preschool; older kids moving out

WHITING — Beginning in September, Whiting Elementary School will house a district-wide prekindergarten program for the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union (RNeSU), as well as a full-time private childcare center.
RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins said that the Otter Valley Unified Union (OVUU) School Board sought a public-private partnership to address concerns from parents who were unable to send a child to pre-K because they also needed full-time childcare.
“We had been concerned that we were not able to capture some families who really need pre-K, but can’t separate pre-K from childcare because of transportation needs or work needs,” Collins said.
Vermont’s universal prekindergarten law mandates that schools offer 10 hours of free preschool per week during the academic year. This means that parents must be available to pick up their children mid-day, and that working parents need to find additional childcare.
Whiting Elementary School, which will formally be known as Whiting School, enrolled students in prekindergarten through second grade during the 2017-2018 school year, but as of this September, it will become the prekindergarten center for the district’s three- and four-year-olds.
Children who live in one of the eight RNeSU towns will receive preference in enrollment for the 15 spots in the prekindergarten program, which will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from approximately 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In addition, RNeSU will partner with two independent childcare providers to run a full-time (7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.), year-round childcare program out of the Whiting School building. The childcare providers will accept infant- to school-age children.
“It can be seamless. You drop your child at childcare in the morning, you pick them up after work, and during the day they’ll get pre-K embedded right in there for 10 hours a week,” Collins said.
THE WHITING SCHOOL will host a new childcare center opening after Labor Day; students older than pre-K will attend school in Leicester or Sudbury.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
After winning a bid from the school district, Rebecca Kerr and Amanda Russell will run the childcare program at Whiting School. Both Kerr and Russell currently operate registered in-home childcare centers, Kerr in Shoreham and Russell in Orwell.
“I’m excited to bring what I’m already doing to the school,” Kerr said. “I’m just moving my program to a bigger space.”
Russell added that their impact will be larger in the Whiting School.
“We can provide more care — quality care — to more families,” Russell said.
While they are still finalizing their licensing with the state, and do not have an open date, Kerr and Russell plan to run their business out of three classrooms in the Whiting School.
They plan on splitting one classroom into two infant rooms, both of which will have a capacity of eight infants. In addition, there will be a toddler room with a capacity of 10 and a pre-K room with a capacity of 15, bringing the total capacity to 46 children. Kerr noted the possibility of expanding in the future.
The childcare center will likely employ nine to 10 staff members.
Kerr and Russell see their new center as fulfilling a need in the community.
“Addison County’s childcare need is huge, especially for babies. It’s really hard — places are closing down all around us,” Kerr said.
Kerr is currently the only registered provider in Shoreham, and there are no registered providers in Whiting, she said.
“My waitlist could fill another whole childcare center. I just can’t do that in my home,” Kerr said.
Russell noted that moving to the Whiting School will open up some spots.
Still, Russell said that 100 percent of her current families are following her to the new space, and Kerr said many of her families will attend the Whiting program as well.
“We’ll likely open full,” Russell said.
AMANDA RUSSELL WILL be the co-director of a new childcare center in Whiting this fall.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The upcoming school year also brings changes to the Leicester and Sudbury schools.
Kindergarten through fourth grades will be in Leicester Central School, and fifth and sixth grades will be in Sudbury Country School.
Six towns — Brandon, Goshen, Leicester, Whiting, Sudbury and Pittsford — voted in January 2016 to become a merged district (OVUUS) under Act 46. Two years later some OVUU schools still had small class sizes.
Last year, Whiting, Sudbury, and Leicester schools all had small class sizes, with two grades having only one student each, according to Collins.
“We looked at class size policies and wanted to ‘right-size’ the system. It was driven by the budget process, but it also was a good thing to do with kids,” she said.
This new plan, which makes Whiting, Leicester and Sudbury one school in the eyes of the state, will increase class sizes to 14 to 18 students.
“It’s really a better grouping for kids, and it has greater fiscal efficiency as well,” Collins said.
The reorganization of different grades has opened up the three classrooms in the Whiting School for childcare space.
“I think it’s brilliant,” Collins said of the plan. “As the state is losing enrollment, and schools have some empty classrooms, I think this is a way that schools can really become community centers and offer quality services for families. I’m very excited about it.”

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