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Low enrollment behind Kent ISD decision to reduce Great Start Readiness classes

A decline of more than 500 preschool students has resulted in Kent ISD announcing that it will sharply reduce the number of classes offered by its Great Start Readiness Program, along with laying off 36 teachers.

The Great Start Readiness Program is a state-funded free preschool program for 4-year-old children. It is offered in all Kent County school districts except for East Grand Rapids, with classrooms located within school district buildings and in community settings. 

Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff, in a letter to Kent ISD staff, stated that COVID-19 has had a big impact on enrollment, with many parents choosing to keep their 4-year-olds home. GSRP enrollment is down by 46 percent, so they needed to reduce the number of classes from 69 to 49, Caniff said.

“We held off as long as we could on our decision, waiting for enrollment to come into focus after local districts posted their return plans, but the late August enrollment surge that typically occurs in normal years did not materialize this summer,” Caniff said.

Every GSRP class has a lead teacher and associate teacher with the student ratio being eight students to one teacher. While the 20 classes would mean 40 staff layoffs, due to some openings that had not been filled, there will be layoffs of 14 lead teachers and 22 associate teachers, for a total of 36, Caniff said.

The Great Start Readiness Program usually starts later than the schools districts open,  to give the districts time to get their elementary schools and busing up and running, said Kent ISD Director of Early Education Ashley Karsten. The program is scheduled to start on Sept. 14. 

According to the Kent ISD Return to School Plan, GSRP will align to what each district will be doing at the time the preschool program starts. So if a district is entirely virtual, the GSRP in that district also will be entirely virtual. If the district is offering in-person classes with a virtual option, the preschool program will do the same.

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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