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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Pinellas’ first pre-K center ready to open

CLEARWATER — The Lew Williams Center for Early Learning, the first pre-kindergarten center of its kind in the Pinellas County School District, is ready to open in January after months of delays.

School board members will vote during Tuesday’s board meeting on proposed job descriptions for a program coordinator for the center, as well as behavior specialists and teachers. Superintendent Michael Grego said he would like the position filled in time for students to enroll in the school at the start of the second semester, Jan. 21.

The program coordinator is responsible for supervising staff and reports to the executive program manager. The job requires experience with preschool or kindergarten curriculum, and at least a bachelor’s degree in elementary or early childhood education with certification in early childhood education.

The center is located in a 10,000-square-foot space on the Pinellas Technical Education Centers St. Petersburg campus, and is named after a former school board member who died in December 2011. The center isn’t just a school district operation, but will run as a partnership with most of the county’s resources for children, including the Early Learning Coalition, Head Start, the R’Club and the Juvenile Welfare Board.

The center will staff eight full-time childcare classrooms for about 100 children between the ages of 1 and 4 who are living in poverty, said Karen Sierra, program development manager for the Juvenile Welfare Board. The school district also hopes the center will provide opportunities for students enrolled in early-childhood programs at PTEC and Gibbs High School to get hands-on experience and training, said School Board member Rene Flowers.

“I’ve never seen a group so cooperative and working so well together,” Flowers said. “This is a-typical from anything done before, but no one’s throwing up barriers. Everyone’s asking questions but bringing up solutions.”

It took plenty of solutions to make the January start date. The center was originally slated to open in August, but was pushed back because of multiple weather-related construction delays and funding questions, said Dave Barnes, executive director of Career and Adult Education. As construction leaked into the holiday season, Barnes said it made more sense to open in January.

Even though the center will open half-way through the school year, interest should be high, Sierra said. There are already waiting lists for the Juvenile Welfare Board’s three newest early learning centers in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, which hold between 55 and 58 children each.

A recent study by the agency and the school district found that last school year nearly 40 percent of children entering kindergarten in Pinellas County weren’t academically ready and fell behind in classes.

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