Vineyard committee exploring universal preschool

The next step towards a task force is to contact potential candidates.

The inside of a Tisbury School modular unit. —Eunki Seonwoo

Vineyard school officials are looking into the possibility of creating universal preschool on the Island.

At the All-Island School Committee (AISC) meeting Thursday, Vice-Chair Alex Salop presented plans to create a task force, to work toward expanding options for students before kindergarten.

Salop hopes to educate more students early on, to save resources otherwise spent catching them up later. He also states that universal preschool could improve district MCAS scores.

As expanding preschool is explored, Salop is also considering possible roles for modular units that might be available to the school district. These could also address a space crunch in the district’s current preschool program, Project Headway.

At the meeting, Salop referenced the 1962 Perry Preschool Project, a lifelong study of disadvantaged youth. The study showed that structured preschool attendees became more educated, successful, and socially and emotionally healthy. 

“We know that the time between when a child is born and 5 years old is the most important developmental time in their lives,” Salop said.

Addressing students’ issues earlier can save time and resources later, added Salop. “If you have a successful preschool program, you can remediate some of the costs that are occurring every year to remediate these students as they are farther along in their educational cycle.”

Improving the district’s state test scores is also a focus. “We had seen our MCAS scores, and we were not particularly happy as a school committee with them,” says Salop. “One way to do it is by providing a better way for them to be prepared to succeed as students, from kindergarten moving forward. And universal preschool is an excellent way to give kids a leg up so that they can be successful.”

“One thing I will say about test scores is that they’re the last step in a process,” stated Salop at the meeting. “If you do anything else right, the test scores will go along with it.”

Salop told the meeting that the Vineyard currently has excellent preschools. However, many parents are on waiting lists. “What if these families can’t afford to spend the time and money … to get their kids into these schools?” he asked.

Salop also says that many parents who would benefit from childcare would also benefit from preschool, for similar reasons. He is also interested in what responsibilities the district might take for providing preschool-age children with afterschool care. “[We’re] thinking about how we can make it as convenient as possible for parents,” said Salop.

Salop would like task force members to represent the public school community and various stakeholders. He recommended a task force composed of the district superintendent and public school administrators, English language learner representatives, private preschool teachers and/or leaders, a family childcare representative, a large employer with employees who need childcare or preschooling, a private foundation representative, and educational experts.

Given the current state of this effort, Salop acknowledged that timelines and specific steps are yet to be planned, and that a concrete proposal is yet to form. “That’s going to take time and effort, and it’s not something we’re going to come up with in a month,” he said. Salop also says that it will be the task force’s job to understand any financial ramifications, and work with stakeholders to represent current public and private preschool interests.

However, Salop has in mind three ways that universal preschool could form. One proposal is a voucher program to increase the number of preschoolers. This could partner with existing preschool options, and lead to convenience for parents. A voucher system succeeded in Orleans, where the Cape town passed $500,000 in yearly funding through town meeting. Salop did state that a warrant article for vouchers on the Vineyard might not be the best option. Orleans has a significantly smaller student population, and Salop has been advised by district manager Mark Friedman that any warrant article would require a capital expense.

Another way could be a hybrid program, meaning one utilizing both public and private preschool options. Salop says that this system could also use vouchers.

Another option would be to establish a centralized program within the public school district. This would require capital funds, and Salop is considering public-private partnerships for funding.

A hybrid or centralized program could benefit from extra space provided by modular units that the district is currently considering purchasing. The units, currently in use for the Tisbury School construction project, must be purchased or have their leases extended by Feb. 15, presenting a time crunch for any plans.

Committee member Robert Lionette recently expressed interest in using the units for a centralized early education program.

Available space and resources are an overall consideration for district preschooling. Were universal preschool implemented, Salop estimates a preschool population of 120 to 150 students per age group, an estimate based on similar numbers in each high school grade.

The only preschool program the district currently offers is Project Headway, which teaches special needs students and an equal number of their peers. The peers require tuition to attend.

Project Headway, says Salop, is dealing with a lack of space: “[Project Headway] is using space in churches and other locations.”

“There’s only a pretty limited number of resources available in Project Headway anyhow,” he adds. “So we’re not doing a ton of preschool education for the larger Island community.”

Salop said that universal preschool would benefit from modular units, but does not absolutely require them.
Amy Houghton, Tisbury School committee chair, was receptive to the presentation. Houghton recommended a task force on the topic at the previous AISC meeting. “I think it’s fabulous. Really appreciate all [the] work that you have done,” said Houghton.
Houghton advised Salop to inform potential task force candidates of the scope of work required, and to bring a list of potential candidates to the next AISC meeting. That meeting is yet to be scheduled.


  1. Wow using a study from 1962, today is nothing like over 60 years ago. This sounds like another lets throw some money at an issue and maybe it will get fixed. Why not focus more on the current kindergarden program and see how that can be tweaked. In 1962 many schools only had half day programs if at all. This is a time for kids to learn social skills and get ready to learn not to start academic training.

  2. This is so encouraging to see! As an SLP (speech-language pathologist) versed in both spoken and written language development, it is essential that we provide the opportunity for all young island children to be assisted in the development of social skills. Also, it would be so nice to see an SLP involved in the process as well as many of us are concerned with vulnerable children who may be overlooked at this age with subtle developmental language difficulties. It is not unusual for kids to be under-diagnosed and under-treated at a critical age in which foundation skills for both social and literate language skills can be laid for greater academic engagement and success.

  3. But wait, wait! The current narrative is we can’t find enough teachers on the island because there’s nowhere for them to live and young families are moving away for the same reason. If that’s the case then we certainly don’t need to take this action.

    • You want to further encourage young families to leave instead of give them an incentive to potentially stay and lay down roots on the island?

    • There is no shortage of places for teachers to live so long as their salary is in line with the housing costs of the communities they serve.

  4. Interesting idea. I hope the task force will include people working in the field.
    Joanne Lambert
    MV Family Child Care Network Coordinator

  5. It’s time for full funding of all of the State’s colleges and universities for the first two years.

  6. Great reporting and encouraged to hear such foward thought and intellect coming from The All Island School commitee. I can say from experience that the pre-school payment voucher I recieved as a single mother, who worked full time, contributed to the success for my daughter and myself . The voucher covered extended hours, as my job at the time did not end at 2:40.
    Consider adding parents who have experienced this assistance as part of your task force .

  7. Just another socialist check the box item. If you feel the need for daycare but can’t afford it don’t have kids. It’s a pretty simple solution to this problem. Somehow I was able to excel academically in high school, college and grad school with no pre-school or kindergarten. Maybe I should be asking for reparations for the money I saved taxpayers!

    • John, not everybody is a smart as you and had such great parents.
      Taxpayer funded education is pure Socialism, if you can’t afford to to educate your children do not have sex.

      Socialism: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, ObamaCare, government run schools, agricultural price supports, get paid to not plant, police departments, fire departments, trash pick up, sewers, to name a few. We have been a solidly Socialist country for well over a hundred years. American Socialism, love it or leave it.

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