Leaders of the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area briefed Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors and School Board on the status of the area’s early childhood services at their joint meeting Wednesday. 

Erika Viccellio, executive vice president of the United Way-TJA, presented findings from a 2016 fiscal map and report on efforts to promote early childhood development and school readiness in Albemarle County and Charlottesville.

The report, published by the Charlottesville-Albemarle Early Education Task Force last summer, estimated that 251 of 366 low-income four-year-olds in Albemarle were enrolled in Pre-K programs in 2016. It suggested that the county was within reach of enrolling virtually all four-year olds.

“We have about 80 slots to fill in order to reach that ‘gold standard’ of 90 percent,” said Viccellio, who also chairs the Task Force.

The report found greater unmet need for child care assistance, with only 39 percent of eligible families receiving these services in the city and county. Home visits for health care and parent education were identified as the second-largest unmet need, with 48 percent of eligible families served. 

Supervisor Norman Dill said he had recently visited a preschool class at Agnor-Hurt Elementary with fellow supervisor Ann H. Mallek. He described how the teachers had set up three identical sand tables to teach children the mathematical concept of volume. 

“I was incredibly impressed with the efficiency of [the class], and the expansion of it,” he said. “The kids were so absorbed.” 

Barbara Hutchinson, United Way-TJA’s vice president for community impact, gave a presentation on the Outcome Collaborative, a new initiative designed to assess which services have the greatest impact on at-risk children.

The project has created a data reporting system to track the outcomes of at-risk children from early childhood through high school. Hutchinson said families must give consent for their children to be included in the project. 

“We are going home-to-home, making sure parents understand that service providers will collect data and pass it on to their public school division,” Hutchinson said. “That’s the only way we can tell if these services work, or if kids who need them are receiving them.”

“Parents have been excited, almost honored that their children are participating,” she added.

Hutchinson said schools would be able to see what early childhood services participating students have received, as well as the frequency and intensity of that service.

“This is the first time our schools will have this data about students,” she said. 

Local preschools will also share Outcome Collaborative participants’ results on Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening tests. Hutchinson said these assessments  historically are more commonly used by public preschool programs than private ones. 

“Part of our work in the Outcome Collaborative is to introduce  [the PALS test] to private providers,  to help them increase the quality of their teaching,” Hutchinson said. 

The Outcome Collaborative is funded by the United Way-TJA, the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation.

Cathy Smith Train, president of the local United Way, said the Outcome Collaborative is a long-term, longitudinal study. “We can’t tell you what we are going to learn, and we won’t know until we get there,” she said. (Train also serves on the board of directors of Charlottesville Tomorrow.)

Train said an earlier plan to establish the Outcome Collaborative fell apart in 2009. She credited the leadership of Albemarle and Charlottesville’s public school superintendents, as well as elected officials, for its eventual creation. 

“We need your visible and strong support,” Train told the School Board members and Supervisors. “Without that, access for our preschoolers is neither attainable nor sustainable.”  

Albemarle County Public Schools superintendent Pam Moran said the Outcome Collaborative was “something we have worked really hard to accomplish.”

“The United Way has been an incredible leader in convening local government… and folks from all over the state to help us figure this out,” she added. 

School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff said the United Way-TJA should also examine ways to make after-school enrichment programs accessible to more students. 

Albemarle County schools admit students to their Extended Day Enrichment Programs on a first-come, first-served basis. Monthly tuition is currently $210, with a subsidized rate of $105 per month for low-income families. 

Only 4.2 percent of program participants received financial assistance from either the county, the state or the United Way-TJA this year.

Acuff noted that Meriwether Lewis Elementary’s after-school program has twice the enrollment of Greer Elementary’s, even though 110 more students attend Greer. She attributed this to the fact that Greer serves many more economically disadvantaged families than Meriwether Lewis.

“I was struck by that data,” Acuff said.  

“The schools that tended to have the most children in Pre-K had dramatic drop-off for after-school enrollment. … All of the [United Way] scholarships were much appreciated, but they aren’t enough to accommodate the need.”

School Board members Pam Moynihan and David Oberg were absent from Wednesday’s meeting, as was Supervisor Brad Sheffield


Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.