Mt. Eccles Elementary School returns to offering single preschool class

Lottery for admission will be drawn Aug. 9

Mt. Eccles Elementary School has reduced its preschool to one class after expanding to two classes in 2018. Demand for spots at the preschool, seen here on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, is high, but there are other options for kids who don’t get in, Principal Gayle Groff said. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
Mt. Eccles Elementary School has reduced its preschool to one class after expanding to two classes in 2018. Demand for spots at the preschool, seen here on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, is high, but there are other options for kids who don’t get in, Principal Gayle Groff said. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Mt. Eccles Elementary School has reduced its preschool to one class after expanding to two classes in 2018. As a result, less than half of the students entered into the preschool lottery will be able to win admission, Principal Gayle Groff said.

However, a return to one preschool class doesn’t mean that anything’s gone awry, Groff said. The 2018 expansion to two classes was made possible by an atypical annual staffing budget, and was not expected to represent a new norm.

“It’s one of those things that just worked out, and it’s not going to work out like that this year,” Groff said. “Budgets being what they are right now, it’s pretty clear that’s not a luxury we can afford.”

The school gives priority to 3-5-year-olds with special needs, using the lottery to select additional students who serve as typical peer role models, she said. Kindergarten readiness is another high priority, so the lottery preferences 4-year-old students over younger ones.

“At this point, because there are so many 4-year-olds, we don’t even put 3-year-olds in the bucket,” Groff said.

Tickets from 3-year-old applicants haven’t made it into the bucket in seven years, she said.

The lottery replaced a queue system that gave an advantage to long-time residents. Pregnant mothers would reserve spots in preschool for their children-to-be, leaving Coast Guard families and other relative newcomers at the end of a hopelessly long list. The lottery is a more equitable system, giving children of all families the same shot at sending their preschoolers to Mt. Eccles Elementary, Groff said.

Such an imbalance in supply and demand would represent a problem in communities lacking other venues for preschool education. However, Cordova childcare centers like Children’s Pallas and the Christian Center provide a suitable alternative to preschool at Mt. Eccles, Groff said.

“If there were no other opportunity for kids to be served, it would definitely be a gaping hole, but I don’t think it is in our community,” Groff said. “I think it’s okay, because there are other ways to serve the needs of preschoolers in our community.”

Groff is not aware of any child having been turned down by all of Cordova’s preschool education venues, she said.

The preschool lottery will be drawn starting at 1 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9. Children who are initially disqualified may qualify if other children whose tickets are drawn ahead of theirs do not confirm that they will attend. In other words, if there were 10 available spots and your ticket were drawn 11th, you might still run a chance of getting in, Groff said. Parents of both selected and non-selected students will be notified by phone ahead of the weekend.