Remarkable people, remarkable work

Today found me and photographer Michael Gallacher at the Early Learning Preschool at Jefferson School to interview Janice Nugent, who has been a speech therapist with Missoula County Public Schools for 41 years and is retiring in June.

Nugent has raised five children; advocated for people with disabilities; takes care of her brother, who has Down Syndrome, during summers; and earned her PhD in special education in 2011 at the age of 61. (“I wanted to prove that I could,” she said about writing a dissertation.)

After our interview, we followed her into a classroom, where she worked with a small group of students — in a coat closet.

The location seemed appropriate, she said good-naturedly.

“Speech therapists never have rooms,” she said.

It just reminds me how amazing the quality of work is that Nugent and others are able to do with limited resources.


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16 MT communities to share $10M in preschool grants

It seems like only yesterday I was driving around Missoula with a printout in my hand of preschool providers accepting new children. My daughter’s daycare provider had experienced a sudden health emergency that left her unable to care for children anymore. I was looking for the best preschool in Missoula I could afford, and pronto.

The printout came from Child Care Resources, and helped whittle down my search to less than a handful of possibilities. In some communities, however, there are only a handful of preschool providers – or fewer.

So parents and providers in these places are sure to rejoice at this news, relayed by email this week:

Montana Awarded $10 Million to Expand Access

to High-Quality Early Childhood Education

in High Needs Communities

HELENA – Today, Governor Steve Bullock and Superintendent Denise Juneau announced that Montana has been awarded a $10 million-a-year federal Preschool Development grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase capacity and expand access to high-quality early childhood education in sixteen high needs communities throughout the state. The grant provides support for school districts in these communities to improve professional and program development, including scholarships for early childhood educators, building Montana’s early childhood workforce to ensure they’re able to meet the accreditation and licensure standards recently approved by the Montana Board of Public Education. Additionally, grant funds will be used to expand access to publicly funded, high-quality early childhood educational programs in these communities. This competitive grant can be renewed for up to four years, for a maximum of $40 million awarded. More than 6,000 four-year-olds are expected to be served over a four-year period. A total of 18 states received preschool development grants.

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New school year brings new round of federal grant funding

Three cheers for reading and writing!

Juneau and Tester Announce Extension

of $4.9 Million Striving Readers Grant

Forty-Two Schools and Pre-Kindergarten Centers

Able to Continue Literacy Efforts

Helena, MT – Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and U. S. Senator Jon Tester announced 42 Montana schools and pre-kindergarten centers will continue to receive federal grant funding for the next two school years to advance literacy skills, reading and writing for students from early childhood through grade 12. Montana will receive $4.9 million for the 2014-2015 school year. In 2012, the competitive grant was awarded to only six states. To date, more than 10,000 students and 850 teachers and staff members have benefited from the Striving Readers grant.

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Business Leaders’ Summit on Early Childhood Education


Apologies for the crumminess of this photo, which doesn’t do the venue justice at all. It was taken during a brief break between speakers who kept this amateur photographer too engaged to take photos while they were on stage.

This morning business and education leaders from all over Montana – about 200 in all, I’d say – gathered in Missoula at the Hilton Garden Inn to discuss the importance of early childhood education. The lineup included Gov. Steve Bullock, Phyllis Washington, Paul Tough, Mike Halligan, Larry Simkins.

The audience included noted named in the Montana business and education communities, including University of Montana President Royce Engstrom, Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle, Montana Chamber of Commerce head Webb Brown … the list goes on.

And Alice and I were among them! She was there to cover the summit for the Missoulian and I was just noodling around for an editorial.

While Montana’s governor gave the keynote and Phyllis Washington (of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation) was among the first to speak, the standout speech of the summit was delivered by Paul Tough, a journalist, speaker and author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.” He talked at length about the different traits that drive success, and how they intersect with different approaches to early education.

Read all about it – and more – in Alice’s thorough report, which includes a link to the Montana Budget and Policy Center’s very interesting (no, really!) report on pre-kindergarten.

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Preschool bill gets backing from Montana senator

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act sure has a likable title. It’s an early childhood education bill that would fund preschool initiatives for lower- and moderate-income families.

And today it gained the official support of Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who signed on as a co-sponsor.

Tester, a Democrat, says he supports the legislation because it will increase access to “high-quality” preschool in Montana. Generally, it aims to improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers. Specifically, it would also support the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

In today’s announcement, Tester explains that “Early learning is the best investment we can make to prepare our children for future success. Giving kids an early boost will pay big dividends down the road for Montana.  By focusing on early childhood education and improving school readiness, we are investing in Montana’s future.”

Here’s the rest of the press release from Tester’s office:

Studies show that high-quality pre-school leads to a wide range of short- and long-term benefits, including better educational outcomes, stronger job earnings, and lower levels of crime and delinquency.

Tester recently met with a number of Montana law enforcement officers to discuss the positive results early childhood education programs have for at-risk families and children, particularly for reducing crime and increasing school preparedness.

Tester’s The Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which was introduced by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, is supported by over fifty national early childhood education, family and community organizations.

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Cyclists conduct fashion experiment for Missoula preschool

There’s a fun story in today’s Missoulian about a “Tweed Ride” organized by a group of local bicyclists to benefit Spirit at Play, a local preschool.

Tweed Ride organizer and preschool teacher Allison Goodwin describes the preschool this way: “Spirit At Play is a small local non-profit preschool that serves over 40 families annually. We’ve been operating for more than 15 years and we are Reggio (Emilia)-inspired (referring to the Italian education philosophy). We believe in an aesthetically pleasing environment in which to focus on children as competent, capable learners.”

The event, which called on participants to wear their most “dapper attire,” attracted more than 50 riders. I can only imagine what the turnout might have been had the cyclists been allowed to wear the more ubiquitous modern bicycle attire – lycra.

– MM

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About education

First up, the Missoulian has continuing coverage of the debate over whether to raise tuition for Montana’s universities. The Governor says to hold the line; the universities say they need more money or they’ll have to make cuts.

Next, Kathy Dufresne of Stevensville is named the Montana Association of Gifted and Talented Education 2009 Teacher of the Year.

Speaking of gifted and talented, my 4-year-old has now been on a waiting list for a two-day-a-week preschool slot for three blasted months now. What gives?

– Tyler Christensen

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The Liz Claiborne Preschool in Seeley Lake

This story in today’s Missoulian made me wonder if somebody in Missoula could find a similar foundation to help support the Growing Place, which is still expected to close in late June.

– Tyler Christensen

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Preschool slots available at Jefferson

From the Missoulian:

Missoula County Public Schools has openings in its preschool classes this fall at Jefferson School.

Classes will begin Sept. 2. Parents are encouraged to register their child as soon as possible. Morning or afternoon sessions are available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Morning sessions are from 8:45 to 11:15 a.m., and afternoon sessions are from 12:30 to 3 p.m.

The MCPS Early Education Preschool Program offers a literacy-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum that serves children with and without disabilities who have turned age 3 by March 1, but are not of kindergarten age.

All classes are taught by Montana-certified teachers with extensive preschool experience. Tuition is $78 per month. Preschool students must live within the MCPS elementary district boundaries to be eligible to enroll.

For more information or to register, call Char Klofstad, 728-2400, Ext. 1090, or visit the district Administration Building, 215 S. 6th W., between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.