Hillcrest needs space; bond is key

With a few hundred toddler and preschool students, Hillcrest Early Childhood Center is a bustling place. The Highlands school is home to three education programs for pre-kindergarten age children.

Bond goes

to May vote

With a few hundred toddler and preschool students, Hillcrest Early Childhood Center is a bustling place. The Highlands school is home to three education programs for pre-kindergarten age children.

Children as young as six weeks attend Even Start with their parents; 3 to 5 year olds attend Hillcrest’s inclusive preschool and 4 year olds of low-income parents attend Early Childhood Education & Assistance Program (ECEAP).

Hillcrest is the only school in the state hosting these three state and federally funded programs. And just across town on Benson Hill is Hillcrest’s sister school, Spring Glen — home to Head Start. The two sites cover early childhood education for Renton School District.

“No one really knows what goes on here, how many young children we impact,” says Judy Krenzin, principal of both schools.

Krenzin would like to impact many other young children, like the dozens of families on the waiting list. But there simply isn’t room.

“There’s still more children out there who would qualify to be served, but we just don’t have any more room; we’re completely out of space,” Krenzin says.

She even had to turn down state money last year that would have added more students to Hillcrest’s ECEAP program.

“They said, ‘Renton, come on,’” Krenzin recalls. “I had to say, ‘I am sorry, we have no more room.’”

More room will be created if voters approve the reissued $150 million construction bond in a May 20 election. The measure failed by just 78 votes during a March 11 election. To pass, it must be approved by 60 percent of district voters.

If passed, the bond would fund construction of a new early childhood education center. The new building could go up at Hillcrest or Spring Glen, or on another piece of district land. Hillcrest’s three programs and Spring Glen’s Head Start would operate in the new building.

Hillcrest was an elementary school before it was an early childhood center. It was built in 1953, as was Spring Glen.

A new, bigger building would allow Hillcrest and Spring Glen to serve some of those hundreds of waiting-list families and the hundreds more who qualify for the schools’ programs. Many of the programs are for low-income families. The inclusive preschool targets special-education students.

District spokesperson Randy Matheson says expanding preschool access is especially important because the state wants districts to increase preschool offerings. The State Legislature is moving toward a preschool through 12th grade system, Matheson adds.

“We’re excited to create a building to house more space and more classrooms for preschool kids,” Matheson says.

Teresa Edwards would also like to see a new facility, even though her children will be too old to use it. Edwards is Hillcrest’s PTA president. Her daughter Sierra, now 7, went through Hillcrest’s inclusive preschool, which houses a mixture of special-ed and non-special-ed students. Her son, Mateo, 5, is a current inclusive-preschool student. Both Sierra and Mateo are special-ed students. Edwards third child, Spencer, 3, will start inclusive preschool this fall as a “community kid” — or non-special-ed student. Edwards helps in Mateo’s classroom once a week.

“I’m very happy with it — it’s an awesome program,” she says of Hillcrest. She especially likes the inclusive-classroom concept.

“It gives your child someone to emulate … and teaches the community kids how to communicate with a child who maybe doesn’t use a lot of words yet,” Edwards says.

Hillcrest has eight inclusive preschool classes. On a recent visit one of the classes was celebrating Heather’s birthday with cupcakes. Another class was sliding on scooters across the gym floor. Two girls lay on their stomachs in crocodile poses on nearby colored mats, while a young boy walks a balance beam. This is the gross-motor-skills classroom, Krenzin says. All eight inclusive preschool classes rotate through here each day.

“It’s the total package,” Krenzin says. “We focus on the whole child everyday.”

Hillcrest has a speech and language pathologist and occupational therapist. Head Start and ECEAP also give families access to a health specialist and a family support person who can connect them to food banks and clothing.

“Our goal is to get the child schoool-ready,” Krenzin says. “Get them school-ready socially, emotionally and academically. “

Teresa Edwards says inclusive preschool well-prepared her daughter Sierra for school. Sierra now attends Tiffany Park Elementary.

“It really mirrors how an elementary school is run,” Edwards says.

Inclusive preschool and Hillcrest have taught Edwards many parenting strategies. She has taken several parenting classes with the school.

“I’ve learned a lot from them to make my family function,” she says. “It’s not perfect for sure, but it sure has helped me become a happier, more fulfilled stay-at-home mom.”

Krenzin hears a lot of positive feedback, from parents and children.

“Man, if you’re 3, 4 or 5, man, you rock here,” she says.

Emily Garland can be reached at emily.garland@reporternewspapers.com or (425) 255-3484, x. 5052.