At Bayard Public Schools we are pleased to be making progress in developing new capacities to serve the early childhood population of our community. However, we realize that we have much to learn and do to maximize opportunities for children and families in rural Nebraska.
Like many districts in rural Nebraska, Bayard Public Schools does not have a long history of providing early childhood education opportunities to students younger than the kindergarten entrance age. With the exception of service to children identified with special needs, our district was fairly uninvolved in early childhood education. The idea of developing a preschool had been discussed from time to time, and a private preschool provider served many of the children in the community. Head Start had historically been available in the neighboring town of Minatare but there were no transportation services provided to help families in poverty to make the 26-mile round trip to connect their children to the program.
During the 2013-2014 school year we learned that the private preschool provider in our community would be retiring, and there were no providers prepared to offer preschool services. We were facing the possibility of losing the single preschool option that existed in our community. We began discussions with Head Start about the possibilities for collaborating on a school-based preschool /Head Start program that fall.
Later that fall, I attended a presentation by First Five Nebraska at the State Education Conference in Omaha. During the presentation Becky Veak and Jen Goettemoeller shared a wealth of information about the importance of early childhood education. During their presentation, Becky and Jen also extended an invitation to visit Nebraska communities and share information (along with significant data regarding the distribution of children at risk in our state). Knowing that it's a 379-mile drive (one way) from Lincoln to Bayard, I was doubtful about how sincere their offer might be when they learned where I lived. Becky and Jen were true to their word, and within a few weeks they were presenting information to the Bayard Public Schools Board of Education on a cold December night almost 400 miles from home!
After hearing the message from First Five Nebraska, our Board of Education indicated that the school should proceed with the process of seeking grant funding to secure the resources necessary to provide preschool services in our community.
That winter, a team of educators in our school authored an application for a Nebraska Early Childhood Education Grant to fund the development of a preschool. The Board of Education authorized submission of the grant in February 2014, and we were awarded the grant that spring.
We are now in our second year of operating a school-based preschool in partnership with Head Start. This year has been especially exciting as Educational Service Unit #13 is the new grantee for Head Start in Western Nebraska. With the long-established positive relationship between our school and our ESU, I look forward to the continuing improvement of a high-quality preschool/Head Start in our community. Our preschoolers love coming to school, our parents appreciate the learning opportunity for their children, and our kindergarten teachers tell us they are seeing positive impacts from the program with our kindergarten class this year!
Superintendent, Bayard Public Schools