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Watertown refreshes pre-K programming at McKinley

Watertown School District

Watertown schools will begin to offer more early childhood education options. The district is expanding the programming offered at McKinley Elementary.

Currently, the school operates as a K-4 with some early childcare options. However, beginning next year McKinley will be the districts hub for early childhood education.

Principal Shannon Knopf said it will expand junior kindergarten to full days and five-day weeks for preschool.

“We currently have preschool for our special education students and our four-year-old students that qualify under Title (1)," Knopf said. "We are expanding that so that children that don’t qualify for special education services or don’t qualify Title services can come to McKinley under a tuition preschool program.”

Title 1 is an assistance program for low-income families. That tuition would be $215 a month because many school districts can’t fund preschool.

“Preschool is not a requirement for schools to fund," Knopf said. "Some school districts have certain avenues that they can use funding to supplement or support a preschool program, and typically its Title 1 services. Some schools may be able to use general funds, but we are not supported for preschool funding. We get a kindergarten through 12th grade student allocation funding.”

Knopf said the plan aims to help students from all backgrounds receive a successful education.

“Really, we’re helping kids that are at-risk, living in poverty, helping them in all academic areas but also social-emotional areas, and teacher connection," Knopf said. "We have a plan for family communication, we have parent and Title nights, and parents will know – this is where my child is at, and this is what they need to know before they enter kindergarten.”

The new early child education policy begins next year.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture