Students in Trenton Elementary's pre-K program are the first in the Mount Desert Island Regional School District. Tremont and Southwest Harbor are collecting information to see if there is interest in their towns for a shared pre-K program. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Schools gauge interest in pre-K

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A survey is circulating in Tremont and Southwest Harbor to gauge interest in offering a shared preschool program through the public school system.

Signed by the principals from both Pemetic Elementary School and Tremont Consolidated School, the survey is a preliminary step to gather information about interest within the two communities, to determine an approximate number of children who will be four years old in the 2019–20 and 2020–21 school years and interest in attending the program.

School officials insist this is the first of many steps to determine whether a preschool program in the two communities is viable. There is no clear picture yet of what such a program would look like, Superintendent Marc Gousse said.

“We’re anxious to bring it forward but we need to be conscious of the implications to the communities,” he said. “It might not look like the Trenton model when it comes forward.”

This school year, Trenton Elementary School initiated a pilot preschool program, the first of its kind within the Mount Desert Island Regional School System. Voters at this year’s Trenton Annual Town Meeting approved $58,000 in local tax money for the program. That amount was about half of the program’s anticipated first-year costs. Federal Head Start funds made up the remaining amount for the preschool program that serves four-year-olds in the community.

“It’s been a good partnership so far,” Gousse said, between Head Start and the district. “So far, we’re very, very pleased with the programming and the positives we see for the children.”

Tremont and Southwest Harbor are already home to some independent, private programs currently meeting that need for some children and families, Gousse said, where Trenton had fewer options for early childhood education before the school’s program opened.

A shared program in Southwest Harbor and Tremont communities would not be designed to compete with existing programs, school officials said. Instead, it could include some form of collaboration with the organizations already working with preschool students.

Formulation of school budgets within the district is underway and includes anticipated increases in teacher salaries and health care costs. Understanding the cost of implementing preschool programs in any of the elementary schools on the island will be essential in conversations going forward, Gousse said.

“We’ve got to get a handle on what the bottom line is,” he said. “There’s really a lot of leg work and conversation before we can give something concrete.”

Families in Southwest Harbor and Tremont interested in learning more about the Pre-K survey can contact the elementary schools for more information.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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