The Bay Shore School District continues to blaze a path here on Long Island through its commitment to offering Pre-K to local families.

The district’s next big move is to establish a facility at which to educate its entire cohort of preschoolers — over 400 students per year — on just one property.

And plans are progressing at the former New York State Armory to do just that.

The district hopes to have a good portion of the new, $11 million Universal Pre-K facility open by September of 2018, district officials told Greater Bay Shore this month.

“We believe this will be the first facility of its kind on Long Island that’s totally dedicated to Pre-K,” said Superintendent Joseph Bond.

The former Armory property, which the district acquired from the state in 2011 for $1, consists of two large buildings on Brentwood Road just south of Sunrise Highway.

One building, the one to the south (pictured above), will house 12 classrooms under the plans. The other building, to the north, will be used as a cafeteria/multi-purpose room. A third structure will connect the two with a lobby, library and administrative office space. 

The ultimate plan is to also build a fourth structure on the property, which would add 10 more classrooms and allow Bay Shore to educate all of its preschoolers at the one location — a number of children that amounts to between 400 to 440 students. (See the full site plans below.)

“The south building has already been gutted and is ready for classrooms to be installed,” said Maureen Virsinger, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.

The property was acquired through legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Phil Ramos and the late state Senator Owen Johnson, who continued to support the proposal after the land was acquired, the district officials said.

The district currently has $5 million in state grants for the project, with another about another $2 million coming from capital projects funding from its general fund, Virsinger said.

The district expects to “at least” have the existing buildings ready to go by September 2018. Getting the new structures built will depend on potential funding sources, which are actively being sought. In the meantime — after September 2018 — more than half of the district’s preschoolers would attend classes at the old Armory, with the others off-site.

HOW IT WORKS

The Bay Shore district is now on its third year of providing full-day Universal Pre-K.

“It really is incredible, what they learn in this program,” said Virsinger. “When these kids come into kindergarten they come in ready to go. The understand the routines, they know how to write, they can write their names. And, there’s no crying on the first day … This really is the new kindergarten.”

Studies have shown even children of similar backgrounds with little or no educational experience before kindergarten not only fall behind early on in school, but Pre-K participants are “less likely to be arrested for violent or drug crimes and had significantly fewer arrests,” according to the Center for Public Education.

“[Universal Pre-K] levels the playing field for parents that might not be able to afford it otherwise,” Bond said.

Bay Shore currently receives the largest New York State funding allocation for Universal Pre-K of any non-city school district.

“At this point we haven’t had to turn down any families that have requested full-day, but we’re at maximum capacity,” Virsinger said, adding the allocation could climb further when the new facility opens.

New York State’s recent big push to provide more funding or Universal Pre-K services began under Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014. But Bay Shore’s commitment to providing public Pre-K services for families dates to the mid-1990s, according to Bob Pettersen, the executive director of the Great South Bay YMCA, which is the largest provider of Pre-K services for the Bay Shore School District.

He said Bay Shore’s history with Pre-K is likely why it sees so much state funding.

“It’s not only the demographics of Bay Shore, but when they (the district) apply they have such a strong case and so much experience,” he said. “We really were the prototype for Universal Pre-K.”

Even today, many Long Island districts don’t offer Pre-K, full or half day. Still others offer full-day that’s limited to a relatively small number of children, with slots awarded through a lottery.

To offer Universal Pre-K, public districts contract with private, third-party Pre-K providers. The providers staff the programs (and more) and the private provider and district work together to administer the programs.

EARLY ADOPTERS

The Great South Bay YMCA is the largest educator of pre-schoolers for Bay Shore Schools, at over 240 children. But district preschoolers attend classes at one of four different sites: the YMCA building, Kiddie Academy, Mary G Clarkson Elementary School, or Fifth Avenue Elementary.

Under the current plans, the new facility would allow the district to use the current Pre-K spaces in the two elementary schools for other purposes, while contracting with just one provider — which would likely be the Great South Bay YMCA, given the sheer size of the program to be housed at the old Armory.

The Y has partnered with the district since 1995, Pettersen said.

“This was back when UPK wasn’t even UPK in the state or the country,” he said. “Evelyn Holman (the longtime Bay Shore superintendent), she was a visionary. We were one of the first ones on Long Island to actually have a UPK program. It was an amazing pilot program back then and it’s evolved over 23 years.”

“‘We started out as a little half day UPK program with 30 kids,” he continued. “Now it’s almost 250 kids going to school full-day, and it’s academically focused, it’s standardized, it’s just amazing.”

In public schools, which often educate children whose families have drastically varying means — which is the case in Bay Shore — Bond and Virsinger said providing Pre-K to as many local children as possible is all about closing the well-researched achievement gap.

“Closing the achievement gap was the primary deciding factor of the board when they chose to commit to this program,” Virsinger said. “Because they know what an impact this is going to have on children.”

Bond says the word of Bay Shore’s commitment to Pre-K offerings has gotten out on the island.

“It’s making us a destination location,” he said. “I’ve had parents come up to me that moved here from surrounding towns specifically for this program.”

Superintendent Joseph Bond and Bay Shore’s head groundsman, Robert Knapp, who has put four children through the district’s UPK program — with what Knapp described as remarkable results.