Opportunities for pre-K programs expanding for children in the Hilltop

COLUMBUS (AP) — In his 2017 State of the City address last month, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther reaffirmed his commitment to expanding quality early childhood education programs.

Ginther announced the creation of the Hilltop Early Childhood Partnership to come up with a strategic plan to double the number of children enrolled in quality pre-K in that west side neighborhood by 2020. Ginther said there are fewer children enrolled in quality pre-K in the Hilltop than in any other part of the city.

Rhonda Johnson, the city’s Education Director says the process of developing a strategic plan for the Hilltop is just beginning but, she says, there’s no question about the need on the west side.

“I looked at some data today and there were 56 children that wanted to be in preschool in Columbus City Schools (on the west side) and they’re on a wait list,” Johnson said.

The Linden Park Early Childhood Education Center opened in October. It has 72 children enrolled with plans to grow to 200. It may become a model for other parts of the city. The former Linden Park school is the only city school building dedicated solely to pre-kindergarten.

Principal Candace Nespeca and her staff went door to door in the neighborhood to let people know about the program. They enrolled dozens of children who would otherwise not be attending a pre-K program.

“So us being smack in the middle of the Linden neighborhood, we focused solely on our 43211 (zip code) kids right here in the middle of Linden and trying to find kids that weren’t going to attend pre-K and got them first and that’s how we started our enrollment,” Nespeca said. “It moved fast once the community realized we were here and parents heard we had space open and had a good program, we filled up quick.”

Research shows a quality pre-K experience increases the likelihood of a student’s success throughout school.

Johnson says the plan for the Hilltop will evolve from community input. It may be very different from Linden but the goal will be the same – making sure every child in Columbus has an opportunity to enroll in a quality early childhood education program.

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