A new early childhood center would bring three Washington School District programs under one roof and include a classroom for higher education instruction.

“It’s really a win-win for the community,” said Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer.

The district is seeking voter approval to build such a center on the Washington West Elementary campus. The new facility would house Parents as Teachers, the in-town Growing Place preschool classrooms and office, and early childhood special education programs.

The early childhood center is included in Question One of the two-part bond issue that will be on the April 2 ballot. Question One is a $9 million bond issue which does not require a tax-rate increase.

VanLeer said there are many advantages to having all three programs in one location, as well as the potential for additional collaboration with East Central College by utilizing the center as a lab/instructional setting.

Coordinators of the impacted programs agree.

Pat Frank, Parents of Teachers, and Kelly Worstell, Growing Place Preschool, both spoke at last Wednesday’s school board meeting about how a comprehensive center would strengthen each of the programs and provide a “one-stop” facility for families.

Frank and Worstell were giving their annual program evaluations to the school board and VanLeer asked them to talk about what a childhood center would mean.

Frank said families would be able to seek out the necessary early childhood services they need, including screenings, all at one site, and the staff will be able to meet and discuss issues and needs daily.

Worstell said families are often confused and overwhelmed when seeking services and don’t know where to go so a center with everything under one roof would be ideal.

“Collaboration among staff,” is another key benefit, she said.

VanLeer said Frank, Worstell and Maria Brady-Smith, early childhood special education coordinator, who was not scheduled to speak Wednesday, all had input in the design of the proposed center, providing insight on where classrooms, screening rooms and offices should be located. The group also visited other centers in Missouri.

“We have a preliminary design and would be ready to go out for bids very quickly if the bond issue passes,” the superintendent said.

VanLeer said the district also would seek reimbursement from the state for the early childhood special education portion of the building.

The center would likely take a full year to build, she said.

ECC Benefits

VanLeer also spoke to the East Central College Board of Trustees Monday night about the bond issue and its implications for the college.

“Students in ECC’s early childhood education program could utilize the center as a lab/instructional setting,” said VanLeer.

“Potentially, we could establish a program similar to those we have in place at Four Rivers Career Center where high school students from Washington and our sending schools, as well as adults, could prepare to pursue careers in early childhood education or work in child care settings.”

VanLeer said having ECC students observe and learn in a facility that houses infants/toddlers through pre-kindergarten could be beneficial to them and the school district.

“This would enhance the ability to meet their needs and our ability to grow our own teachers,” she said.

VanLeer added that leasing space in the new center to ECC to accommodate the college’s education program could be a possibility as well.

Mary Beth Huxel, coordinator of the teacher education program at ECC, said being able to utilize a lab school would be instrumental as ECC pursues accreditation through the National Association of Educators of Young Children.

“We need to place students at a lab school program where they can observe and be with bachelor degree teachers,” Huxel said.

“To be an accredited program, our students must do a placement at an infant/toddler site in addition to practicums at a 3- to 5-year-old program site,” she said. “Our students also have to work under teachers trained in one of four state-approved curriculums.

“We currently have many students observing in classrooms in the Washington School District, as well as sites in Owensville, Rolla, St. James and Immaculate Conception in Union,” Huxel noted. “Unfortunately we have only two infant/toddler sites where we can place our students.”

Bond Issue Details

Other projects included in Question One of the bond issue are wireless infrastructure for classrooms districtwide, class additions at Marthasville and HVAC improvements at Augusta Elementary.

Question Two seeks approval of a $40 million bond issue with a 25-cent tax rate increase to construct and equip a new middle school, serving sixth, seventh and eighth grades on the now vacant property the district owns on east Highway 100, and renovation of the current middle school into an elementary serving kindergarten through fifth grade.