Mayor John DeStefano Jr. edged closer to his vision of universal preschool in New Haven Tuesday as the city moved to consolidate day-care programs for three and four-year-olds.
Four day-care centers previously run by New Haven Child Development have been entrusted to the city Board of Education as of Nov. 1 in order to further ease the transition for children from preschool to kindergarten. The shift in management adds 100 more children and 35 employees to the already burgeoning preschool programs run by the school system.
Currently, 75 percent of New Haven’s pre-kindergarten-age schoolchildren are involved in some form of a preschool program. DeStefano said he wants participation to be 100 percent and predicted the next step in making preschool universal, which would involve enrolling infants and toddlers, will be complete in a year.
If the plan is successful, the New Haven school system will soon oversee the education of the city’s children from birth through high school graduation.
“Most of the testing we have suggests that New Haven kids learn,” DeStefano said. “Most of the reason they end up behind other children is because they start behind. The problem is what happens before kids reach kindergarten — or what doesn’t happen.”
The school system already serves 1,000 children through school readiness, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten programs, which are distinguished by their funding levels.
Enrollment in New Haven Child Development programs began to slip behind that of the school system’s day care programs a year ago.
“The programs really shouldn’t be competing amongst themselves,” said Rhonda Zahler, a staff member of the city’s Task Force on Universal Access to Early Care and Education.
DeStefano has been touting universal preschool as a priority for improving education in New Haven, and he included it in his State of the City address last February. The mayor appointed the 17-member early care task force last September and requested them to develop a plan for improving New Haven’s preschool system.
The task force released its findings this fall with recommendations for uniform staff training standards, increased funding and the now realized day-care merger between New Haven Child Development and the Board of Education.
The only change for the four affected day care centers will be the management that oversees them. Employees and facility locations will remain the same.
The four care centers are Dwight Day Care, Hill Parent Day Care, the Youth Fair Chance Development Program and West Hills Day Care Center. A fifth day care center, the Newhallville Community Child Development Program, is slated to open in January.
Zahler said the $1 million in federal grants received this summer for the Head Start programs would go towards implementing many of the task force’s initiatives.