Festus R-6 School District buys property, selects teacher to lead new Early Childhood Development program

A 59-cent tax increase proposition passed in 2019 by voters gave the district the green light to create its own program for the first time.
Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 5:56 PM CDT
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FESTUS (KMOV) -The Festus R-6 School District is creating its own Early Childhood Development program, three years after voters approved a 59-cent tax increase to give the green light to the project.

For years, the district has participated in the Dunklin R-5 School District’s program and seen success, Nicki Ruess, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said.

“It’s been great being a part of the cooperative and having some of our district’s students take part in the programming,” she said. “But, because it is their program, we’re limited to the number of students that can attend, our resident district kids, so this is something we’ve dreamed and talked about for many years.”

Right now, she estimates around 60 students from the Festus R-6 School District take part in the program, most of which are students with special needs. Once the district is able to start its own early childhood education program, it will enroll close to 250 students, Ruess said.

“For our local parents, I think it will be much more convenient for drop-off, plus it will be a part of our transportation routes as well,” she said.

The district recently purchased property at 821 American Legion Drive. The building and property were previously home to Wee Care Learning Center.

“A lot of the infrastructure is already in place,” she said.

In February the district selected Samantha Mouser, a 3rd grade teacher at Festus Elementary, to serve as director of the program. Mouser, in her ninth year at the school, said she couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

“I wanted to keep the younger kids, I wanted to take the next step in coaching and leading staff so I just felt like this was a great opportunity for myself and my family,” Mouser said.

Mouser has served as summer school principal for the last three years and said she has always desired a role in administration. She hopes to use her experience in the classroom in her new role.

“That’s one thing that is very important with that age (3 to 5) is making sure they’re socially and emotionally ready to come to school,” she said.

Right now, Ruess said there is a small disconnect with students who attend the co-op program and then start kindergarten in the Festus R-6 district.

“Our kindergarten teachers aren’t involved in the programming and curriculum there so we’re looking forward to the continuity having our own program will provide,” she said.

Mouser will finish out the school year in her classroom before spending the next school year as the program coordinator, designing the curriculum, setting hours, hiring staff and ironing out other specifics.

“These people are my friends and my family so it’ll be hard to leave the school,” Mouser said. “But I’ll still have kids, lots of kids, they just won’t be mine.”

The district is aiming to have the new Early Childhood Development Program open in August of 2023 for students ages 3 to 5. For the 2022-2023 school year, students will continue to attend the Dunklin R-5 School District’s program.

Mouser will assume the director role in 2023.