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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Early learning center plan gaining steam

LARGO — It has taken about 21/2 years, two superintendents and five community organizations, but school board members Tuesday approved a plan that will allow the Lew Williams Center for Early Learning to open in August.

The memorandum of understanding outlines the final plan for the school district’s community collaboration with the Juvenile Welfare Board, the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, Lutheran Services of Florida, and R’ Club Child Care to run the center. It will consist of eight classrooms, with two classes for each age group at the Pinellas Technical Education Center’s St. Petersburg campus.

Named for a former school board member who died in 2011, the center will provide day care and educational programs to children between the ages of 1 and 5 living in poverty.

“This is something that started when [John] Stewart was superintendent and Gay Lancaster was director of the Juvenile Welfare Board at the time, so we went through lots of transition,” school board Chairwoman Carol Cook said. “This is something that is obviously of value, when two organizations can change their CEOs and it still continues, and the process still comes out this strong.”

Under the memorandum, which the Juvenile Welfare Board will consider Thursday, the school board agreed to provide custodial, maintenance and operational services for the center, as well as four certified classroom teachers for the 3- to 5-year-olds. Those teachers will have the same salary and benefits as they would receive in a county school, but would be paid by the R’ Club. All other teachers will be R’ Club employees, and they are required to have bachelor’s degrees. Hiring should begin in May and June, Deputy Superintendent Bill Corbett said.

The Juvenile Welfare Board pledged up to $250,000 for startup and six weeks of operational costs, and after that would make the center an annual budget item. The Early Learning Coalition will pay R’ Club for salaries, and Lutheran Services will provide health, dental and other services that families may need, Corbett said.

R’ Club will run the center, maintain state licensing, pay staff, provide breakfast, lunch and snacks to students, and implement the curriculum, which will be set by the Juvenile Welfare Board and the school district. Area high school students taking career education classes to become child development associates and post-secondary students at pTEC will get hands-on experience working at the center. Students in the Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School will volunteer with music and art classes for the students, Corbett said.

“This is without a doubt a time to celebrate the legacy and history of Lew Williams, but also celebrate a legacy of being able to work together and the impact this program’s going to have on so many young people’s lives in the future,” Superintendent Michael Grego said.

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