Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Opening of early childhood education center delayed again

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County Schools' first early childhood center will open a year later than originally planned after a combination of construction and bureaucratic delays.

The Lew Williams Center for Early Learning now is on track to open in August. It will offer day care services to low-income children ages 1 to 4.

The center's opening was first delayed by construction, with district officials hoping for a January start to coincide with the second semester of school. Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said it became clear that wasn't going to happen.

Construction on the eight classrooms at Pinellas Technical Education Center in St. Petersburg, known as PTEC, was complete. But the partners — which include the Early Learning Coalition, Head Start, the R'Club and the Juvenile Welfare Board — hadn't finished hammering out the details, such as who will be the lead agency and who will pay for what. The school district owns the building.

"There's a lot of partners that are trying to make this come off," Corbett said.

There were other considerations, he said. The center will have room for 107 children, but officials weren't sure they would fill all the spots with a January start. Staff members still must be hired and some of them might come from the Pinellas County school system. District officials would prefer not to move teachers midyear, Corbett said.

"We think there will be some of our veteran teachers who would want to do that," he said.

The center is the school district's first real move into early childhood education. It was conceived as a tribute to Lew Williams, a School Board member who died in December 2011. He owned a day care facility and was passionate about early childhood education.

Nearly 30 percent of students who enroll in kindergarten each year in Pinellas aren't ready for school, according to the district. Many of those students come from low-income neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, Lealman, Clearwater, Largo and Tarpon Springs.

The district also made a move to run the county's Head Start program, but lost the $12 million grant last year to Lutheran Services Florida, a nonprofit organization based in Tampa.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8846. Follow @Fitz_ly on Twitter.

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