District receives $261K grant to expand pre-K program

The Woodland Park School District was one of 28 that were notified this week of pre-K expansion grant funding awards. This $20 million in funding to the 28 districts means that approximately 1,450 additional children across the state will have access to quality pre-K. Woodland Park received a grant of $261,360 and was the only district in Passaic County to receive funding.


The goal to open full day pre-K in Woodland Park has been discussed and planned for the past six years, according to Superintendent Dr. Michele Pillari.


“We are so proud that we are opening full day pre-K for our children,” she said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our children and our community.”


The money awarded allows the district to fund its current pre-K program for this school year, which was expanded to serve up to 30 children. Going forth, the school district plans to reopen School #1 on McBride Avenue for the 2020-2021 school year and offer tuition-free pre-K to approximately 115-120 students.


School #1, which closed as a district school in the early 90s, has been rented the last number of years by charter schools. Renters have made significant improvements to the building over the years, putting the district in place to be able to reopen it for district use without impacting the general budget. When fully executed and operational, it is the intention of the expansion program to serve offer tuition-free pre-K to up to 215 students.


At the Sept. 4 Borough Council meeting, Mayor Keith Kazmark and the Borough Council presented a proclamation in acknowledgement of the expansion plans.


“This will be a great benefit to students who may not otherwise receive this type of education,” Kazmark said. “This is a tremendous accomplishment and will have a long lasting effect on every child that comes in to the program.”


Dr. Pillari noted that when the state expanded its grant funding available, the district jumped at the opportunity to apply for funds. Administrators, board members and Charles Olbon Principal Giovanna Irizarry worked on meeting the application requirements and deadlines.


“Mrs. Irizarry was instrumental in putting the application,” she noted of the year-long process.


At Gov. Murphy’s presentation for the grant awards earlier this week, Dr. Lamont O. Repollet, commissioner of the state Department of Education said, “Too often we focus on the numbers, but we must remember that these are real children, real lives, and real families whose lives are being improved by our efforts.”


“High-quality preschool is one of the best investments we can make to prepare young minds for academic success,” added Cary Booker, assistant commissioner of Early Childhood Education at DOE. “Research tells us that quality preschool programming can be a powerful indicator of success throughout out a child’s schooling, and it continues to have a positive ripple later in life.”