MERRIMACK — With a lengthy waiting list of children hoping to enroll in the school district’s preschool program, school officials have agreed to add more staff to accommodate some of the demand.

Currently, 28 families are waiting to secure a spot in the preschool program.

“We are continuing to grow,” Kara Cave, preschool coordinator, told the school board last week. “Many families would like to join our program. We were able to take in as many as we could for the 2019-2020 school year, but we still have 28 families that are still on our list that would like to join our program if there was space.”

John Fabrizio, director of student services, asked the school board to consider hiring a certified special education teacher and two para-educators so that a new classroom could be opened for preschoolers at Mastricola Elementary School in the fall.

“It is time to consider moving forward and adding again,” said Fabrizio, noting that enrollment has increased from 80 preschoolers in 2010 to 170 preschoolers this current school year.

By opening another classroom, it would enable the district to provide one extra morning session of preschool and one extra afternoon session of preschool, Cave said.

“We are at capacity with 14 (students) in every classroom right now,” said Fabrizio. Ideally, he said, the district prefers to have 12 to 14 students per preschool classroom with one teacher and two paras.

He prefers to have about eight students who are not identified as special education students in each classroom, with the remaining six students eligible for special education services at the age of 3.

“We want all students to improve,” said Fabrizio, adding that Merrimack preschoolers have been able to improve their social and emotional skills and early language and literacy skills.

He said there is data to prove that Merrimack’s preschool program is successful, and that early childhood education is beneficial for children of all abilities.

The program has not only educators, but speech pathologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists to help young students who have been identified as being in need of early intervention.

The school district works with The Children’s Pyramid, and Gateways Community Services’ Early Supports & Services, to meet with families early and talk about their next steps prior to their child turning 3 years old, said Cave.

“We schedule testing in all areas of domain,” she said, explaining that it is one part of the process to determine eligibility for special education.

The school board unanimously voted to add the extra teacher and two paras to support the extra preschool classroom in the fall.

“Our children are extraordinarily lucky to be able to be identified that early,” said Brandi Nunez, school board member.

Andy Schneider, another board member, said that while he supports Merrimack’s early education program, and voted in favor of the extra staff, he said the board should review existing tuition rates to see if they are reasonable.

“Is there an opportunity to charge a little bit more to offset?” he asked.

Currently, prices range from $130 to $170 a month, depending on how many days per week a student attends.