After enrollment dropped for state-funded prekindergarten programs in several areas of New Haven, the school district is working to improve the application process for Elm City families.

At a Finance and Operations committee meeting in early January, School Readiness Project Director Denise Duclos announced that the district will redistribute the available spots in several of their state-funded “school readiness,” or preschool programs in order to maintain the $8.2 million grant that New Haven receives from the state. The city plans to move unfilled spaces to centers with more demand and institute several initiatives to advertise preschool programs to parents and streamline the application process. The school district currently serves 1,018 students in school readiness centers.

“The New Haven Early Childhood Council and New Haven Public Schools are working together to improve recruitment efforts,” Duclos told the News. “The state policy is to move unfilled spaces to other communities. Historically, New Haven has filled all of its spaces by March, and very little funding has been returned to the state.”

Duclos said that the moves were necessary in order to justify the need for the full grant to the state, or they would lose some of the grant. The New Haven Register reported that at the January meeting, several board members expressed concern that there was still a need for early childhood education in the areas that would lose seats.

Catholic Charities, Central Connecticut Coast YMCA, the Connecticut Children’s Museum, the Edith B. Jackson Child Care Program and Farnam Neighborhood House will all see a decrease in available seats for this year. These centers are located in the Fair Haven, Newhallville and Dwight neighborhoods, which all have lower median household incomes than the citywide median income.

New Haven Board of Education President Darnell Goldson told the News that he was concerned about these neighborhoods “losing slots,” especially after learning that there was no database to help parents find out about available seats. However, he said that he was confident that the district is working on a solution.

“I’m happy that overall New Haven has not lost any slots, and soon there will be a system so that parents won’t be turned away in underserved communities,” he said.

Parents interviewed by the News say that declining preschool enrollment is indicative of larger communication issues within the district.

“Communication is the common denominator and problem when it comes to participation from parents or students in any programs in this district,” said Nijija Ife-Waters, the president of parent organization Citywide Parent Team.

Sarah Miller ’03, a member of community activist group New Haven Public Schools Advocates and parent of a child enrolled in a school readiness program in New Haven, said that she believes that the application process would be easier on parents if the NHPS made the process more transparent. Currently, parents can apply for their children to receive early childhood education through the state school readiness program, Head Start or magnet school programs, but there is often a magnet school waiting list and unfilled seats in school readiness programs at the beginning of the year.

Duclos said that the district is partnering with the New Haven Early Childhood Council, a volunteer organization comprised of parents, community organizations and district employees, in order to increase awareness of early childhood education in New Haven. She said that the Council is developing a new mobile app that will give parents live updates about available spots in all of the district’s early education programs.

The two teams are looking to add descriptions of the local public and magnet school readiness programs and federally funded Head Start programs into booklets about school choice, as well as present at school choice expositions for families. The Council also plans to reach out to more families in neighborhoods without preschool programs in magnet schools to inform them about the school readiness and Head Start programs.

The New Haven Early Childhood Council was first established in 2007.

Carolyn Sacco | carolyn.sacco@yale.edu