APS wants to turn some schools into early childhood centers. Some are asking if the district will be able to fill them. - Albuquerque Journal

APS wants to turn some schools into early childhood centers. Some are asking if the district will be able to fill them.

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Part of Albuquerque Public Schools plan to repurpose several campuses would potentially turn them into as many as four early childhood centers.

The plan to right-size schools, officials have said, is based on declining enrollment in the district and has been a long time coming. Many of the schools picked for repurposing bring up the rear in attendance at their respective school levels.

Still, parents and board members have expressed some hesitation at the plan, which is in very early stages. But what’s the idea behind adding so many new early childhood centers?

Having more centers, Superintendent Scott Elder said, will help make early childhood services more accessible to children and families in their communities.

“We have programs, but they’re scattered across the city. They’re not universal,” he told the Journal. “So instead of having small programs at a lot of schools, we can have a comprehensive program at a few sites that parents (can) reach.”

The centers would be district-run, but other service providers may be pulled in to keep the centers up and running outside of APS’ union-negotiated hours, Elder said. The district will hire more early childhood educators as needed, he added. Funding will be decided on by the school board.

Some board members, such as Secretary Courtney Jackson, had questions about the district’s ability to fill the early childhood centers.

“I just wonder that if these are elementary schools that we can’t fill with elementary school children, how likely it’s going to be that we can fill them with pre-K?” she asked on Monday.

Part of the long-term plan behind the centers is to scale up the district’s capacity to handle the roughly 14,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Albuquerque, Capital Master Plan Executive Director Kizito Wijenje replied. Only about 2,800 of those students, he added, are receiving early childhood education.

That means that there are plenty of children out there who just aren’t receiving any services, Wijenje said. He added that the recently-passed constitutional amendment – which he said essentially mandates early childhood in the state – makes the plan a good idea.

He also pointed out that there are costs involved with simply closing and selling off facilities, and that this way, the district may not have to come back years later and ask taxpayers for as many more buildings to accommodate children for early childhood services.

Financial viability, though, isn’t an argument that appeals to everyone.

Some parents with children at schools that would become early childhood centers have expressed enthusiasm over the plan. But while not everyone was opposed to the idea, many preferred their schools stay the way they are.

“It’s not a bad idea,” said Laura Villa, whose son is in kindergarten at Kirtland Elementary School, one of the campuses that may be affected. “But there’s other places they can do that … why here at the school?”

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