Jul. 21—Three county schools will launch a new special education preschool next month at Howard Elementary School.
Eastern, Northwestern and Western entered into a joint agreement this week to serve preschool students, ages 3-5, within each district.
The preschool will be an unused kindergarten classroom at Howard Elementary.
Northwestern Superintendent Kristen Bilkey said they expect to have about 18 students once the school starts in the fall. Twenty is the max; Northwestern has the most students for the preschool among the three districts.
Students will go half days, and not all kids will go each day. Enrollment also fluctuates throughout the year.
The schools have contracted with Bona Vista in the past for preschool special education services. This week's move comes after a year of staffing challenges.
"This past year we had struggles with retaining teachers at Bona Vista," Western superintendent Mark DuBois said last week. "We also had some struggles with services for our students."
DuBois said physical therapy last year for Western's special ed preschoolers was virtual, leading officials to wonder how beneficial it was.
Bona Vista acknowledged its staffing issues and is discontinuing its special education services where schools send preschoolers to the provider.
"The agency must always evaluate services and needs in our community to ensure that our programming remains relevant, of quality, and sustainable," Bona Vista President Brianne Boles said in a statement.
Bona Vista said in a news release an increase in schools starting their own preschools and the rise of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) services has resulted in a decrease in its own special education services.
Other area schools, including Kokomo, Taylor and Tri-Central have similar setups with in-house preschools.
"We have a great relationship with them (Bona Vista), and we're in a teacher shortage," DuBois said. "They can't offer a licensed teacher the same kind of contract we can at a school."
Northwestern is in the process of hiring a teacher for the special education class. The participating school districts will split costs three ways.
Occupational and physical therapy will be provided by the Kokomo Area Special Education Cooperative (KASEC), which includes all Howard County schools, not counting Kokomo, along with Maconaquah, Tipton and Tri-Central.
The schools collaborate on special education services.
The new preschool stands to save each school money on costs. A drawback is Western students will be on the bus an extra six minutes.
"To have a physical therapist, a licensed teacher, I think the resources outweigh the extra six miles we'd be driving for that," DuBois said.
The preschool is expected to start in early August.
Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.