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Jill Kenyon interacts with preschoolers in the Colvill Kids program. Kenyon says she wants Colvill to be the "heartbeat" of the preschool options in Red Wing. She took over as the center's director last August. -- R-E photo by Sarah Gorvin

New director wants only the best for Colvill and children

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Jill Kenyon took the helm of the Colvill Family Center in August. So far, the early childhood coordinator likes what she sees.

"The programs in Minnesota have just impressed me so much," she said.

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But that's not to say that she doesn't see room for improvement. Kenyon says she wants Colvill to be the best.

"Let's be the heartbeat of all the preschool options in town. We should be the role models," she said. "Let's be that shining star."

Supt. Stan Slessor says though he wasn't part of the decision-making process in hiring Kenyon, the selection was "a good one." Kenyon comes directly from spending four years as an assistant elementary principal in Iowa. She holds degrees in special education and elementary education from Iowa State.

"She's a very positive, high energy, can-do type of person," Slessor said.

That energy shows in Kenyon's list of goals for the center. On top of that list is to make sure that the there is consistency between Colvill's early childhood programs and programs in the rest of the school district.

"We have to ensure that we're making that transition from preschool programming to kindergarten," she said. "That's a personal mission of mine."

Kenyon says being a part of the school district is an advantage for a preschool. "For some people there's a lot of power in that," she said.

Taking advantage of that power means working with the kindergarten teachers to match up curriculums.

Implementing curriculum guides that state what each child should know at the end of the preschool programs, much like the school district has already done for kindergarten through 12th grade, is a start, Kenyon said.

"I don't want any of those kids to fall through the cracks," she said. "Early intervention is the key, making sure we get connected all the way up."

Another way Kenyon wants to ensure kids are ready for the jump to kindergarten is to offer them full-day preschool programs. She said going from a couple of half days a week in preschool to five full days of kindergarten is daunting for some children and their parents.

But Kenyon stressed she doesn't want to change everything about the center.

"I think the options we're providing now are working very well," she said.

However, she does want to better advertise the programs the center has -- classes for parents and their children from infant to age 5.

Kenyon said there seems to be a misconception that the center offers only special education classes. The center also houses the Women Infants and Children nutrition program.

"It's not all special ed," she said. "It's a mix."

Part of her plan is to get fliers about the center's curriculum out into the community. Another part is getting the teachers themselves out into the community. She said joining committees in town would be a good start.

It's also about boosting the center's image.

Because Colvill Family Center is located on the East End, she's heard some parents express concerns about the neighborhood.

For those reasons, Kenyon said it's key to let people know about the safety procedures in place: locked doors, a staffed front-desk and security cameras.

What's more, Kenyon believes that that mix of people who use Colvill Family Center's services is a big positive.

"That's the world. (There are) benefits to being around so many different types of kids," she said. "I think it's a great opportunity."

The last piece to Kenyon's puzzle is teacher evaluation. She said Colvill has some of the most dedicated staff she has ever seen.

"They love the kids and they love their jobs," she said.

And, like most things she wants to do with the center, she wants to set the bar high. "I just need to push them to be the best," she said.

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Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.
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