New 'Fast Start' Preschool Program Proposed

December 4, 2002
A new pre-kindergarten program, called “Fast Start,” is being developed as a way of consolidating, improving, and expanding academic services currently offered to 4-year-old children served by the local Head Start and Extended Elementary Education Program.

School officials have been working with county and federal Head Start authorities on procedures that would allow the new initiative to begin as early as next fall, while continuing traditional Head Start programs through the 2003-2004 school year.

The new initiative would offer enriched academic programs, while the non-academic services of Head Start -- health services, family services, and other supports -- would continue, especially for the most needy families. The school system is working closely with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the success of the academic initiative and the continuation of the child and family support services.

Modeled on the school system's successful kindergarten and early childhood programs, “Fast Start” would offer a high quality pre-kindergarten experience using a certified early childhood teacher and instructional assistant in each class of about 20 students. Specific curriculum improvements and staff training would be provided.

By realigning and expanding existing program elements and focusing only on improved instructional services, the new program would address a growing need for more academic preparation among younger, impoverished students, many of whom also are English language learners and entering kindergarten without the basic skills expected of preschool-age children.

In a report to the Board of Education in October, Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, proposed the initiative as a response to the needs of at-risk children who are “in need of a strong literacy-based pre-kindergarten program in order to develop the essential oral language and early literacy skills so critical to learning how to read.”
The superintendent said the new program responds to the Board of Education's academic priority to “develop, expand, and coordinate a literacy-based birth to kindergarten initiative” and addresses findings of the recent kindergarten studies that identified a lack of sufficient academic preparation among children who had been in the system's current pre-kindergarten programs.

Among the key findings from the studies were oral language deficiencies most evident among the youngest English language learners, resulting in the least amount of progress in foundational reading skill development in kindergarten. A significant increase in the kindergarten population is from homes where the primary language is not English.

The proposal would use the current level of county and state funding for the local pre-kindergarten programs and replace those services with “Fast Start.”

As currently envisioned, the new program would focus on literacy and mathematics, along with science, social studies, art, music, and physical education experiences. The instructional strategies would support age-appropriate development of oral language, phonological and print awareness, and alphabet knowledge.

Key Features Proposed for 'Fast Start'


· A student-staff ratio of 20:2
· An early childhood certified teacher with an instructional assistant in each classroom

High Quality Curriculum and Instruction

· Challenging and inquiry-based literacy instructional program aligned with the MCPS curriculum framework
· A consistent 2½ hour program with appropriate daily instruction in literacy, including oral language development, science, and math in support of No Child Left Behind Act mandates
· ESOL and special education services for identified students

Ongoing Assessment of Student Progress Leading to Acceleration and Intervention

· An Early Childhood Observation Record (ECOR) summary of children's progress in seven domains of learning, completed three times per year
· Explicit monitoring of foundational reading skill development and Maryland Model for School Readiness (MMSR) indicators

Parent Literacy Support and Education

· Adult ESOL instruction
· Planned home visits to support parents

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