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.”