Students in the Bright Star program use crayons during art class to draw pictures at Woodbrook Elementary School Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

The United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area estimates that between 250 and 350 of the most at-risk 4-year-olds in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are not benefitting from early childhood education.

In an attempt to address this, Assistant Albemarle County Executive Doug Walker plans to bring the matter before the Albemarle Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

“It’s really just bringing the Board of Supervisors on board to this community conversation, and to endorse this community effort,” Walker said.

The conversation comes on the heels of an early childhood education summit this spring the United Way and Charlottesville Tomorrow hosted. Following the summit, the United Way helped form the Charlottesville-Albemarle Early Education Task Force, an action-oriented team made up of city and county schools leaders and local government officials.

Mike Chinn, president of SNL Financial and chairman of the School Readiness Impact Team, an offshoot of the United Way that advocates for high-quality preschool opportunities, said formulating an estimate of the number of children in need has shifted the community’s pre-K conversation in a positive direction.

“In the past, there’s certainly been a lot of good work done in the community about this issue, but I’m not sure that there was broad awareness around how important it is in the long term, and also around the notion of this gap,” Chinn said.

To foster action, the task force developed a document articulating its vision stating “every child in Charlottesville-Albemarle living with risk factors that impact success in life will have access to a high-quality early education program.”

What’s more, one of the near-term action items the document lays out is a yearly 25 percent reduction of the gap. The 25 percent figure doesn’t represent a first-year goal, but gives a sense of how progress should be measured, Chinn said, adding that ambitious goals tend to spur creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

“The goal of this group isn’t to think incrementally, but a bit more transformationally,” Chinn said. “Clearly, the kids who are benefitting from pre-K are good news, but there are just as many kids who are eligible or could be eligible not benefitting from a proven early-intervention method like high-quality early education.”

Albemarle offers preschool to qualifying 4-year-olds through Title I and Head Start – both federally funded programs – as well as through Bright Stars, a locally funded program run in partnership with Albemarle’s social ser-vices department.

Charlottesville also offers preschool for eligible 4-year-olds. Additionally, the division invests local dollars to run a program for 3-year-olds.

For the coming school year, which begins Aug. 19, 28 new pre-K slots have been created in Albemarle.

During the last budget cycle, supervisors allocated funding for a new Bright Stars classroom at Cale Elementary School. Additionally, the Monticello Area Community Action Agency, which administers Head Start, plans to move a classroom from Yancey Elementary to Agnor-Hurt Elementary.

The students who attended Yancey’s Head Start program will be served in the Scottsville Elementary School Bright Stars classroom.

While officials from both school divisions have cited funding and space constraints as obstacles, the task force has encouraged Charlottesville and Albemarle leaders to remain “unclouded by concerns over funding.”

“We’re convinced that by being on the forefront of thinking about this issue in new ways across the state, people will flock to this,” Chinn said. “And when people flock to this they’re going to want to be part of the transformation here, and then those funding issues can be overcome.”

Despite the recent progress, Chinn and the task force members said they recognize the long road ahead.

“The next steps will be to see if we can move from an understanding and a better-educated community to real action,” Chinn said.

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