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Enrollment Begins for Colorado’s Ground-breaking Universal Pre-K

In near-simultaneous announcements, the Colorado State Senate announced today that Colorado families can now begin to sign up for state-funded, voluntary preschool beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, and the Salida School District has named Theresa Gilson to the role of Salida Early Childhood Center Principal for the next school year.

The legislation that has created Colorado’s universal Pre-K program (UPK) was sponsored by Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Sen. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora. The legislation set in motion the voter-approved universal preschool (UPK) program in Colorado, which will begin with the 2023-24 school year.

The Salida School District has named Theresa Gilson to the role of Salida Early Childhood Center Principal beginning with the 2023-24 school year.

“Universal preschool is finally coming to Colorado, and the start of enrollment means we’re that much closer to providing every family with the high-quality education our kids deserve,” said Fenberg. “Early childhood education is critical to a child’s future success, and UPK Colorado will make transformational changes for Colorado kids and their families well into the future.”

UPK Colorado was created in the statute under HB 22-1295. Family enrollment began today, Tuesday, January 17. Families can now log on to https://upk.colorado.gov/ to begin the enrollment process on a rolling basis.

The Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC) will launch UPK Colorado in the 2023-24 school year, offering a minimum of part-time (10 hours/week) or half-day (15 hours/week) of high-quality, voluntary preschool to every Colorado child in the year before they are eligible to enter kindergarten. Families can choose any participating licensed provider in the state. Additional state-funded hours will be available based on child or family circumstances that may impact kindergarten readiness. UPK Colorado is housed within CDEC, along with other early childhood and family support programs.

“Access to quality early childhood education not only supports critical early development and future educational outcomes for Colorado kids, but also the very well-being of families across our state,” said Buckner. “As we work to build a better Colorado, UPK Colorado will directly benefit families across our state, save people money and set our future leaders up for success. I am so excited that enrollment for fall of 2023 is beginning, and I look forward to watching this new program benefit Colorado’s youth for generations to come.”

Salida Early Childhood Center Principal Named

Gilson, who is currently the Salida Early Childhood Center (SECC) Assistant Director, will take the role of Salida Early Childhood Center principal for the coming school year, when Ilona Witty steps away for retirement. She started her career in education in 2007 as a paraprofessional and a school counseling intern for special education at the Salida Middle School. Then in 2010, she joined the SECC team as the Early Head Start Program Manager and Assistant Early Childhood Education Director.

Since that time, Gilson has worked collaboratively with staff, families, and the community to build a comprehensive birth-to-five early education system for the Salida School District. The school district notes that she is “deeply committed to a whole-child approach that supports families, provides health and nutrition services, and provides high quality, developmentally appropriate early learning experiences.” Her passion is ensuring that children and families in our community are prepared for a lifetime of learning.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, a Master of Arts in School Counseling, and numerous child development and school administration courses, as well as a Colorado Large Childcare Center Director’s License and a Colorado Principal’s License.

A Chaffee County native who grew up in Buena Vista where her father retired as principal of Buena Vista High School, Gilson and her husband PJ have three children.  Brooke and Jackson are 4th graders at Longfellow Elementary and Huck attends the Salida Early Childhood Center.

Chaffee County Early Childhood Council

The school districts in Chaffee County will be working within the parameters of the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council (CCECC). “This is the Local Coordinating Organization for Universal Preschool implementation within Chaffee County,” explained Chaffee County Early Childhood Council Director Sarah Romack. “We have been working with licensed providers across the county to make sure this program can be offered widely.”

Chaffee County Early Childhood Council

There is no deadline to sign up, but families are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible. Children will begin being matched to providers in mid-February.

To ensure that the program is responsive to the varying needs of communities across Colorado, CDEC has appointed Local Coordinating Organizations (LCOs) to support the program at a local level.

Emerging from the “Silos”

Throughout the process of developing recommendations and drafting the legislation that established the UPK Colorado program, stakeholders raised concerns that early childhood programs were operating in silos, and that local communities were best situated to address local needs. The LCO structure will ensure that there is a local center of gravity for early childhood programs that is responsible for coordinating resources, assisting families, strengthening community choice, and meeting accountability standards.

Local leadership is particularly important to engage and support providers so that families have access to a wide range of choices within the mixed delivery framework. Eligible entities submitted applications to CDEC that included evidence of their capacity to support families, providers, and the broader early childhood community. Applicants also submitted letters of support from community members and partners.

These applications were reviewed by a panel of early childhood experts, and 32 LCOs were selected. Chaffee County Early Childhood Council was selected as the LCO for Chaffee County and has been working with the state, local providers, and other local stakeholders toward the successful implementation of the Universal Preschool Program since March of 2022.

Families can register for UPK Colorado by using the online application which launched on January 17.  Interested families should contact Chaffee County Early Childhood Council or their child’s provider. They can find the universal application as well as more information about Universal Preschool by visiting www.ccecc.org or www.cdec.colorado.gov.

CCECC is a nonprofit organization that serves children and their families, prenatal through age 8, and works with many diverse community partners including organizations, parents, and professionals. CCECC works with the community to assess local early childhood needs, identify proven solutions, and access the resources necessary to embed solutions into the ongoing work of community partners.

Families will be able to select the preschool provider that works best for them from a list of more than 850 high-quality providers across the state of Colorado.

There are more than 29,000 seats available across the state for students to participate in the high-quality, voluntary mixed-delivery preschool program available to every Colorado child in the year before they are eligible to enter kindergarten.