Norwalk may retool early childhood approach

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling speaks with other members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation Monday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Perhaps it is time to rethink Norwalk’s approach to taking care of its youngest children, Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday.

“We have to find a program that is going to not just ‘take care of children in the day.’ Not just babysitting,” he said at the Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting. “We need a program that is going to prepare young people for entry into kindergarten and first grade.”

Rilling cited a study that evaluated 5,000 third-graders and found “virtually no difference” in the reading capabilities of those who had attended Head Start and those who had not.

Rilling said city officials consulted the Norwalk Early Childhood Council as they worked to evaluate the Norwalk Housing Authority’s request for Head Start funding. A discussion had developed.

“We have all these different programs,” he said. “Isn’t there perhaps one specific model that should fit for Norwalk? Instead of having Pre-K, School Readiness, Head Start, can’t we have a program that is just the one program that we run? The people at the table pretty much agreed that that’s not a bad idea to start looking at.

“The superintendent of schools also feels the same as we do, that perhaps it is time to look at the programs that we do provide and maybe molding it into a model that fits best for Norwalk’s young people, that’s going to have the highest likelihood or the greatest likelihood of helping to close that achievement gap because right now there is little if any evaluations of the program …” Rilling said. “We obviously need to make sure the children are being served properly, because to put money to a program that is not achieving the goals that we desire is not something that we want to continue either.”

He said he had told NHA officials that whatever money they get out of the next operating budget would not indicate a commitment for funding in the future.

“I made it clear that when we are funding this program, whatever we fund this year is this year only, it’s not a commitment for further funding until we can get our arms around this whole thing and make sure that, again, the programs that we provide and the programs that we fund are achieving the desired results,” he said. “Because I am not one that likes to throw money at something that is not effective. I refuse to do that. We need to work together with the School Readiness Council, work with the Board of Education and try to determine what is the best model for closing the achievement gap. We don’t want to just run a day care center. We want to have children learning and being prepared to go into the schools.”


14 responses to “Norwalk may retool early childhood approach”

  1. Lifelong Teacher

    At last.

  2. John Hamlin

    Common sense in government — true progress.

  3. Dawn

    Maybe i am old fashioned.
    When my son was at NEON for 2 years i kept asking when are you going to work on the alphabet and numbers.
    the response was we don’t do that here.
    i understand that you don’t want to start to drill it in. But you can do introductions.
    I was very lucky with our first year. The teacher had to sneak actual teaching in so the managers would not find out.
    Well now that is preparation.

  4. Oldtimer

    Now Norwalk has a mayor who wants to pay only for results. It will not be easy to get good numbers, but it needs to be done. There are real experts on early childhood education, the City, probably through the BOE, needs to get an expert to set up and monitor the teaching programs part of head start. Spending all that money on simple baby-sitting will never close the gap. Telling a mother “we don’t do that” when she asks about teaching the basics at Head start is wrong and defeats the whole purpose of the Head start program.

  5. Ms. Ruby Mcpherson

    That is really good, but according to the NAEYC(NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG CHILDREN) That the state has deemed the organization program, in order to be accredited site this is what we as a childcare provider was told. Check it out at any accredited site. Learn through play . That is way we attend college to receive our credentials (CDA-Child Development Associate) and now Associates etc. Most childcare facilities can’t afford to pay you for what its worth 17.00-21.00 without high cost for the parent. And most are low-income/ middle income. More than 200.00 plus. Maybe the mayor should meet with some of the teachers from Headstart

  6. rburnett

    Ruby: Your post is very revealing and a true first-hand example of the problem. I imagine you are one of the people teaching our children.

  7. Lifelong Teacher

    @rburnett, you are 1,000% correct. This is indeed the problem and it is huge. Many children come out of NEON and they don’t have language skills.

    Yes we can learn though play. Oral language development, rhyme recognition and production, auditory discrimination, story sense, letter recognition, writing your name – all essential prereading skills that lend themselves to learning through play,. And they haven’t been happening for at least a decade.

    There are tremendous early childhood resources in the city. Let’s use them. And why do we have all the same NEON staff in place?

  8. lightning

    When the public schools are failing schools, everyone blames everyone else but teachers. When things are failing for Head Start it’s the teachers. Maybe it’s time for the finger pointing to STOP!!!!!!!! HEAD START teachers have had many professional heads come in and evaluate them and have received the highest of the marks that can be given. Parents are the first teachers of their children and we need to help to educate many of them, so that with the help of the teachers and community we will see a brighter day. It takes a village to raise a child. Let’s STOP TEACHER BASHING. IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT! !!!!!!

  9. These statements from Mayor Rilling are very encouraging. We know how important it is to provide quality pre-K programs (the one we just approved last night at the Board of Ed will be a good start). Head Start, for all its good intentions, is a program that simply hasn’t worked. The study cited by the Mayor was conducted by HHS and released in 2012.

    The Head Start Impact Study (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/research/project/head-start-impact-study-and-follow-up) tracked the progress of three- and four-year-olds entering Head Start through kindergarten and first grade. Overall, Head Start had little to no positive effects for children who were granted access.

    For the four-year-old group, compared to similarly situated children not allowed access to Head Start, access to the program failed to raise the cognitive abilities of participants on 41 measures. Specifically, the language skills, literacy, math skills, and school performance of the participating children failed to improve.

    Alarmingly, access to Head Start for the three-year-old group actually had a harmful effect on the teacher-assessed math ability of these children once they entered kindergarten. Teachers reported that non-participating children were more prepared in math skills than those children who participated in Head Start.

    Head Start also had little to no effect on the other socio-emotional, health, or parenting outcomes of children participating in the program. For the four-year-old group, access to Head Start failed to have an effect for 69 out of 71 socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes.

    So Mayor Rilling is right. Fundamental changes are needed in Head Start if it is to be a true contributor to pre-K learning for participating children. As presently operated, it is not.

  10. Ms. Ruby Mcpherson


  11. The Mayor has noted his intent to “work together with the School Readiness Council, work with the Board of Education and try to determine what is the best model for closing the achievement gap.” Norwalk Community College has also expressed interest in this. I will make it an objective during the coming year, so by the time next year’s budget comes around, we can have a unified plan.

  12. Lifelong Teacher

    Please tell me Mrs. Ruby isn’t teaching children. Please.

  13. There have been some studies to suggest that school-based preschool is most effective (as opposed to a young child attending a large child care facility). It gives the younger student older peers to learn from and it helps parents develop long-term roots with the schools. Hopefully, there will be some consideration to placing a preschool classroom in most elementary schools.
    Regarding the references made by an earlier poster about National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation– the state does not mandate NAEYC accreditation for all pre-schools, but does require it for programs wishing to receive school readiness funding. There is a disparity among groups that have NAEYC accreditation– some implement the NAEYC standards every day and others don’t. Some have the professional staff whose teaching methods embody the NAEYC standards (which is reflected in their accreditation materials) and others use consultants to create an image of compliance. Whether any of the latter groups are in Norwalk is a question for any parent of a preschooler to ask themselves and their children’s preschools.

  14. Kathleen Montgomery

    Question: Is Head Start actually NAEYC accredited? NAEYC accreditation is pretty much the “gold standard” for preschools. The application for accreditation is very rigorous and, by the time an onsite visit occurs, it’s very difficult to fake anything. I would suggest to Mayor Rilling that NAEYC accreditation should be a requirement for preschools in the Norwalk Public Schools. Any quality early childhood educator would welcome this approach.

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