I am the former chair of the WJCC School Board and a candidate for the JCC Board of Supervisors, Stonehouse seat. I would like to share information in response to public comment made at the April 11 Board of Supervisors meeting and reported in the Virginia Gazette in opposition to the board’s proposed 2024 budget. Ann Marie Smith said the WJCC schools’ pre-K program is ridiculous and nothing more than a “glorified day care.”

Pre-K services are a federal mandate. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, was passed in 1975. And while it is an underfunded mandate, it is a mandate all the same, and communities like JCC and all across the country are required to provide pre-K services to 3- to 5-year-olds.

What is unique about JCC is that over 45 years ago, monies were leveraged using an interagency approach.

The school system, Bright Beginnings and Child Development Resources came together to ensure that 2-year-olds also received pre-K services.

WJCC’s pre-K program is a model program, looked to by communities across the country for best practice in pre-K services. What actually happens in WJCC pre-K classrooms? Those students are receiving physical, occupational and speech language therapies.

Their families are receiving regular home visits by master level educators, where those families are being taught and supported in helping meet the special needs of their children. But most importantly, those students are being taught to learn so that they are kindergarten ready. The research is very clear: For every dollar invested in pre-K, there is a cost savings down the road in K-12 services.

WJCC Schools has the capacity to serve 395 pre-K students annually, and there is always a waiting list.

Currently, 65% of pre-K students are identified as having a developmental disability and have an IEP, or individualized education plan, a federal IDEA requirement.

The remaining 35% are students who have been identified as at risk for school failure because of their socio-economic status or other underlying family issue.

In response to the need to address the pre-K waiting list, it was with the wisdom of the board that additional pre-K space is currently in the Capital Improvement Plan. With additional pre-K space, more pre-K students can be served.

The WJCC pre-K program is a far cry from glorified babysitting.

I felt compelled to ensure the community understands the importance, the federal requirements and the crucial impact of the WJCC pre-K program.

As the mother of a student with dyslexia who was served by the WJCC pre-K program, I can affirm the impact it makes on students and families in this community is critically important!

Lisa Ownby Toano