"I wish the political candidates could see our East School - the programs are packed. We have over 300 kids right now in Head Start, 4 and 5 year old preschool classrooms, kinder-garten, first grade and kinderschool programs. We have wracked our brains to try to come up with more spaces for students."
If the dollars were available to outfit classrooms, the district could find people to staff them, Kwikkel feels.
"For several years, Gov. Vilsack has talked very strongly about making early childhood education a priority in Iowa, and we have gone 'rah-rah' about that, but it seems that we have had more rhetoric than action from the legislature," Kwikkel said.
Instead, schools have felt a cut back in Head Start assistance, and the current federal budget proposal may hurt the program more, she said.
How do you explain to a parent that there is no money to get their child into a Head Start classroom?
"It's so tough. We have had parents get very upset over it. We have people who are new to town who would benefit from having their child in the program, and instead, they go on a waiting list."
At the same time, family services from the Department of Human Services are being compromised, the principal feels. "You call DHS on certain programs, and what you get is a recording. We have less services now than we did before the Shelby Duis murder several years ago."
The voting records of the candidates for Iowa governor vary from good to questionable on education, she adds.
"I would like to bend their ears," Kwikkel said of the crop of gubernatorial candidates criss-crossing the state. People should see our whole gym filled to the brim with these kids eating their lunch. Great things are being done by our teachers for these younger children in this district, and it could be a model for the state and beyond."
Already, children are on a waiting list for preschool programs for next year. Some programs utilize a ratings system based on academic and family financial needs or at-risk status, leaving some to fall through the cracks.
When Storm Lake first started to offer 4-and-5-year-old classes for youngsters who are not quite ready for kindergarten, Kwikkel said that then-superintendent Bill Kruse warned that the first class would only go ahead if 10 kids could be found. "It was filled up on the first day people could sign up," Kwikkel said. "Then we filled a second, and then a third. Now we have 50-some kids in 5-year-old classes."
The programs have served the district and families well. "It's been nice to provide a little extra help to get students ready to be successful when they begin kindergarten and first grade," Kwikkel said. "It has been quite a success."
The issue is especially important in Storm Lake, with its ethnic diversity, and continuing slight growth in enrollment while other rural cities see steady declines.
"Having numbers of children like these is a nice problem to have," according to Kwikkel. "Every district around our area has dropped."
If full funding were available, Storm Lake "could fill a lot of classes" with 4-year-olds, she said.