Albemarle leaders seek details on Pre-K expansion & other school news

As Albemarle County heads into budget season, the Board of Supervisors and School Board are trying to figure out which body will lead the conversation about a possible expansion of Bright Stars, the County’s pre-K program for at-risk four-year-olds.

“The real issue here is a question about whose job it is,” Albemarle School Board Chair Steve Koleszar told the Board of Supervisors at a joint meeting last week. “From my perspective, it’s a County decision about whether you want to go ahead with it or not.”

“If you decide that you want to do it,” Koleszar added, “we’ll make it work.”

But Supervisor Ann Mallek said the body can’t make that decision until the School Board provides more information about projected program costs and school capacities.

“I think I need to know how many zeros we’re talking about, and then we might know how much we might be able to accomplish,” she said.

Bright Stars, which served 155 four-year-olds at eight elementary schools last year, provides comprehensive social services for preschoolers and their families until children complete fifth grade. 

In addition to the preschool program, Bright Stars provides family coordinators who address a family’s employment and financial issues. They also involve family members in the school community and teach parents how to support child learning.

The prospect of expansion arose from steady increases of waitlisted families, which recently was as high as 86.

Koleszar said that the School Board supports Bright Stars, but has yet to take a position on whether or not they want to spend more from their own budget.

“We, of course, have really embraced having those students there, and so there’s all of these in-kind kinds of things that don’t get counted in the cost of the program,” Koleszar added, citing art and music teachers, transportation, and principals. “But the actual funding for the expansion of adding the classroom teachers and the home workers has come from a different stream.”

Currently the Bright Stars program is funded by money from the schools, County government, and the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker expressed concern that the school division wouldn’t have the extra space to house the students, but Koleszar said that while the division has a few capacity-constrained schools, they could handle the additional students.

“If the decision is made that we want to find seats and have classes for those 85 kids, we can work those facilities out,” Koleszar said. “It may mean that we have to put a trailer or two there.”

County Executive Tom Foley said that he will meet with school officials to generate a report containing the requested information.

County schools consider $5 million Agnor-Hurt addition

Albemarle County Public Schools has awarded a contract for an addition at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School to Charlottesville-based SHW Architects. On Thursday, SHW representatives will present a design to the Albemarle School Board for information.

The proposed addition, which covers nearly 12,000 square feet, will add 132 seats to the school in northern Albemarle—an area of the county experiencing significant enrollment increases. Construction is slated to begin in June 2014, and be completed by the start of the 2015-16 school year.  

The project also includes the renovation of another 5,000 square feet of existing art and music classrooms, and security enhancements to the school’s entrance that will resemble the entrance to Greer Elementary. As Albemarle looks at capital projects, Schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said, the division is focusing on both security and enhancing learning spaces.