CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While access to preschool is one of the few, if not the only, aspect of West Virginia's education system that is ranked among the best in the nation, providing families access does not necessarily get kids into classrooms.
Enrolling children in pre-k is the next focus of a comprehensive program designed to overhaul and reform schools on Charleston's crime-ridden West Side.
The steering committee of the West Side Revitalization and Transformation Initiative -- which includes a five-year community school pilot project -- met at the Kanawha County Board of Education last week to discuss new data that shows the impact preschool can have on young students living in the long impoverished neighborhood.
Only about 33 percent of third-graders who participated in standardized testing at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School -- located in an area police have identified as the most crime-ridden in Charleston -- attended preschool.
Those who attended preschool scored a 421 on the Westest in reading, while those who did not attend preschool scored a 401. In almost every subject, students who had attended preschool scored significantly higher.
In addition, students who missed more than 10 days of school scored much lower than those who hadn't, which in Mary C. Snow's case is about half of the pool of students who also did not attend pre-school.
"That's not acceptable. We've got to find a way that we can get to kids earlier or we're going to lose them," Cheryl Plear, a retired teacher who's leading Kanawha County Schools efforts on the project, said. "When we saw that, I said 'Oh my God, if we can do that with pre-k and get that much improved, think about if we do things aggressively before they even get to preschool.'"
"Teachers have to make up for years of developmental issues before they can even start teaching. So we need to do something and we need to do it quickly," she said.
Among the reform initiative's many goals is to create a single source of educational and health services in the neighborhood to support children from birth through high school graduation. The community school pilot project will waive certain state policies at schools on the West Side, allowing for experimental techniques such as year-round class and student uniforms.