“Preschool exposes children to foundational pieces crucial for their educational careers and provides cognitive, behavioral, and social skills that set the stage for future learning.”
-Dan Gallery, PCSD Preschool Director
Exciting developments are on the horizon in 2024 with the initial phase of the Park City School District’s (PCSD) highly anticipated preschool expansion in the final stages of completion. Addressing the community’s growing need for early childhood education is a core focus of the district. Thanks to overwhelming approval by voters of the school bond in 2021, that focus is coming to fruition.
This school year, Dan Gallery stepped into the role of Preschool Director, bringing along his passion for creating a positive and engaging environment for the district’s youngest learners. “I’ve been with the school district for 11 years. Six years as a Special Education teacher, and the last four as Special Education coordinator. In my Special Education career, building strong relationships with families and teachers was a highlight, along with witnessing the positive outcomes of emphasizing good behavior in teaching and learning.” Importantly, Mr. Gallery is also a parent of a young child himself, and brings a valuable personal perspective to this new role.
"In early childhood education, a lot of non-academic, social and emotional growth can happen. Giving kids a head start and setting them up for early success by creating an incredibly engaging environment provides a great foundation for growth,” he said. Highlighting the importance of preschool education, Gallery referred to studies indicating that attending preschool significantly increases a child's long-term success. “Preschool exposes children to foundational pieces crucial for their educational careers and provides cognitive, behavioral, and social skills that set the stage for future learning.”
Gallery said, “Currently, I oversee 10 classrooms, 160 students, and 25 staff members. The initial expansion will add four more classrooms (two each at Jeremy Ranch and McPolin Elementary Schools, creating 70 additional seats for 4-year-olds, employing eight more staff members, and implementing a preschool educator wage increase for the 2024/2025 school year.” His primary goals are to support teachers in their professional growth and provide preschoolers with foundational skills to ensure they are "PRE" school-ready by the time they head to kindergarten.
More than 2,000 preschoolers have passed through the program to date, but each year families have been put on a waitlist due to surging demand. Gallery commended the dedicated school board and educators within PCSD for listening to the community, and recognizing the need to expand the program. He noted, "At the state level, preschool is ahead of the curve in Park City. School boards have a lot of latitude when it comes to supporting early learners. This is why it's so exciting to see the board has taken such a strong stance to support this expansion."
The goal is for the PCSD preschool program to be "the" affordable and effective program all families can access, ensuring an available spot for every 4-year-old within the PCSD boundary who wants to attend. With Parley’s Park and Trailside Elementary Schools’ build-out complete in 2-3 years, preschool will double, accommodating 330 kids. An increase in seats for 3-year-olds is a possibility for the future, once the current expansion is complete.
Unlike many states, Utah does not provide financial support for preschool programs at the state level. However, PCSD stands out as a pioneer by offering the first universal preschool in the state. Universal preschool, also known as “preschool access for all,” is a policy framework that ensures any family who wants to enroll their preschool-aged child in a publicly-funded, pre-kindergarten care and education program has the opportunity to make that choice. Park City was the first school district in Utah to make subsidized preschool available in 2011. Thanks to PCEF donors, a dedicated school board, preschool educators, and partners, including the incredible $250,000 commitment from Park City Mountain through Vail Resorts Epic Promise, as well as ongoing support from the Westgate Foundation the Preschool Program has always been a priority.
“I’d like to thank the board for approving the pay increase to attract and recruit great people. Both Todd Klarich, the Director of Community Education, and Michelle Coy with the Before and Afterschool programs have seen this though, and to be greatly supported by PCEF in keeping preschool affordable – many great programs have come together to support the needs of the community, and it’s just incredible,” Gallery said.
The future looks bright for Park City's youngest learners thanks to Dan Gallery’s vision, collaborative efforts of the school board, partners and community – and continues to reinforce the district’s dedication to providing universal, affordable preschool in Park City. Read more about what affordable preschool means to a local Park City family.