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Committee Recommends Expanding Preschool

After a year of being on Beverly Hills Recreation and Park’s Preschool waiting list, local resident Chantel Mehrpoo called to see what number her child was on the list.

She was 150. At that point, Merhpoo began looking at other options. She ended up enrolling her child in an $11,000 a year religious preschool and will stay there for kindergarten.

Her story, published in the Jan. 11, 2008 edition of The Courier, sparked people to start talking and asking questions.

Should Beverly Hills Unified School District open a preschool? Or should BHUSD join efforts with the City to expand their program so residents can stay in the City for preschool?

At the forefront of the discussion were school board members Steven Fenton and Brian Goldberg.

“It’s always been my vision to do a joint venture with our City to create and brand a sixth school here in Beverly Hills,” Fenton said. “We have an opportunity to create the best and most comprehensive preschool program in the country.”

Fenton and Goldberg started meeting with neighboring school districts Las Virgenes Unified, Newport-Mesa and Palos Verdes Peninsula to speak with district administrators operating public preschools. They found some preschools were bringing in revenue to the school districts, others were acting as feeders to the public schools.

In the spring, Fenton traveled to Sacramento to speak with State Supt. Jack O’Connell. He returned to recommend forming a blue ribbon committee of community members to further research the issue.

The Board of Education appointed five community members to the preschool committee: Chair John Millan, Jacob Manaster, Jillian Neal, former Mayor Stephen Webb and PTA Council Co-President Franny Rennie.

Starting last summer, the members began meeting with the City’s Recreation and Parks Director Steve Miller, City Manager Rod Wood and parents.

After the start of school, they distributed a survey to kindergarten and first-grade parents. According to Manaster, they found parents rating proximity to home the number one reason to select a preschool, followed by academic programs, safety and cleanliness. Cost was at the bottom, he said.

This January, the committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Education regarding the preschool. They are not encouraging the school district to open its own preschool, but rather unite with the City to enhance its program.

“We have come to the conclusion that there is already an exceptional program at the City that would benefit with an association with BHUSD,” said Manaster. “It would be a joint effort from our recommendation preserving the method that is currently used to deliver preschool, but better utilize the (BHUSD) facilities.”

Currently, there are 135 children in the City’s  preschool program ages 3 to 5. There are 209 on the wait list, according to Recreation Services Manager Teri Angel.

The City’s preschool program is using three classrooms in the school district, two at Hawthorne and one at Beverly Vista, said Park Services Director Teri Angel.

With the recent approval of the school improvement bond, the preschool committee is recommending the City’s preschool use more of the district’s facilities, said Manaster.

The committee hopes to  re-brand the program to carry both the City and school district’s name. For example, naming the program, “Beverly Hills Preschool at El Rodeo.”

The preschool committee is also recommending hiring an education director to oversee the entire program and bring a more “academic focus” to the City’s preschool.

“It sounds as if the preschool committee has come to the same conclusion,” said Fenton. “I’m grateful to them for their hard work and perseverance.”

Partnering with the City to offer preschool might save the district $2.5 million annually in costs the school district pays to deliver preschool to students with special needs, Manaster said. It is required by law BHUSD provide preschool for special needs students. If it is offered through the City, it can be a tremendous savings.

There are other added bonuses of partnering with the City.

“A joint preschool will produce new revenues and it will help increase enrollment at our elementary schools because it will be a seamless transition (for children and their parents) from our preschool right into our kindergarten program,” Fenton said

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