OTTUMWA — When the Ottumwa school district built the Pickwick Early Childhood Education Center, it was with the hopes the building would eventually fill to capacity.
In its second year of operation, the district is expanding two 4-year-old classrooms into Douma Elementary, which serves students in kindergarten and first grade.
“Pickwick is full,” said Superintendent Nicole Kooiker. “We’re expanding to offer services to all our families.
“When we built the building, there was a lot of people that thought it was too big. At the same time, we knew the potential” it had to fill up.
“We knew the need was there,” Kooiker said of the services the early childhood center provides. “We didn’t know the need was there at that level.”
In fact, Kooiker said the school was at capacity for its first year in 2018-19. She said the district began to look ahead for the future as the Pickwick building opened.
“We planned it for the potential to build onto it if we ever needed to expand,” she said. In fact, the facilities committee has already been looking at that option for about six months. “We want to make sure we have all the data to make sure we’re making the best decision for the future,” Kooiker said. “We don’t want to add on if it’s just a one- or two-year trend.”
And, she said, because the numbers were so close to capacity last year, the district had time to make adequate plans in time for school to start.
As Kooiker discussed the expansion of the program, she listed several reasons Douma was selected for the location. The principal there has early childhood experience. The building had rooms available. And with the building serving a common age group, it’s one less transition those who would eventually attend Douma will have to go through.
“They’ll have the same instructional opportunities as the students at Pickwick,” she said. And Pickwick Principal Michaela O’Connell will still oversee the program at the expanded site.
Kooiker said at the moment they’re currently seeking volunteer families to fill the 4-year-old classrooms at Douma. “We’re asking families if they’re interested to let us know,” she said. In fact, one classroom is already full with students whose families have volunteered to fill the spots. “If they haven’t signed up yet and Douma works for them, that’s what we’ll do,” Kooiker said.
Sign-ups will continue for the early childhood program, she said. “We want to make sure the program is available to all who want to use it. Our goal is to get students in the program and get a jump-start before kindergarten.”
Currently, because of the expansion, there is no wait list. “Everybody’s placed. That’s why we added those classrooms,” Kooiker said. However, if the 3-year-old program grows beyond capacity, students will be put on a wait list. “Our goal is that there’s not going to be waiting lists,” she said.
Kooiker is excited to see the program have so much success. “This is a great thing for the district,” she said. “It’s extremely positive that we get to serve so many students. We were hopeful that we would fill the school and we’d have to build that wing. It just happened sooner than we thought. I couldn’t imagine a better problem to have.”
Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.