Sarasota County Schools News

Donors fund pre-school pilot program for school district

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SARASOTA, July 24, 2017 — The Sarasota County School District will establish two full-time pilot programs for four-year-old children at Gocio Elementary, beginning in August. The program, approved by the School Board July 18, will include a three-year study to gauge the academic impact of high-quality preschool instruction on young children. The classes will be taught by two certified master teachers and two certified paraprofessionals. Students who live in the Gocio Elementary attendance zone will be eligible; the school is located at 3450 Gocio Road in Sarasota.

The program is made possible through Joe and Mary Kay Henson, local philanthropists who partnered with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and Sarasota County Schools to help launch the Eagle Academy at Alta Vista Elementary in 2013. Summer Learning Academies modeled on the Eagle Academy — a two-generation effort that prepares students for the coming school year while training their parents in various job skills — are now being implemented at several elementary schools in Sarasota County. Mary Kay actively volunteers in Title 1 classrooms and collaborates with schools to maximize student impact. The Hensons have committed $700,000 over a three-year period to fund the initial set-up and costs related to this study.

After approving the grant at the July 18 School Board meeting, board members expressed gratitude to the Hensons for their ongoing commitment to students.

“Saying ‘thank you’ is not enough,” said School Board member Jane Goodwin. “Mary Kay and Joe traveled all over the country and checked out best practices for preschool programs. They are truly interested in the achievement of every student in our district.” 

Superintendent Todd Bowden added, “The Hensons are true visionaries who know the value of educational excellence, which begins in preschool. They keep education at the forefront of every discussion.”

Laura Kingsley, assistant superintendent/chief academic officer, said the district will provide an update on the implementation of the preschool program to the School Board on Nov. 7. “We look forward to recognizing the Hensons for their dedication to our children. They are true local treasures.”

The young students in the program will be immersed in learning through a rich curriculum incorporating a variety of experiences. Upon completion of their preschool experience, they will be able to transition into Gocio’s Summer Learning Academy. Students participating in the Academy will have the benefit of a year of school-based academic learning before beginning kindergarten.

Gocio Elementary Principal Steve Royce said he is thrilled that the program is coming to his school. “Early childhood learning is foundational to a student’s academic success; we can see its impact across our nation. The opportunity for students to participate in this study and then attend our Summer Learning Academies creates a pathway for students to be successful in school. Through this path, we can create a greater level of school readiness and overcome many of the challenges that our children face today. We are truly thankful for the Henson’s generosity and the opportunity that the school district has given us to participate in this study.”


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