LAFAYETTE — Last year, more than 300 incoming Lafayette Parish school system kindergartners never attended preschool or some type of educational program prior to starting school — a trend the school system and community early childhood education providers are working to change.

This school year, the school district had 32 students on its waiting list for one of its preschool classes — but that number doesn’t provide the entire picture, said Christine Duay, Lafayette Parish Schools early childhood supervisor.

“We only had 32 who applied and were on a waiting list, but we had 323 free and reduced kids last year who didn’t go anywhere,” Duay said.

The school system started tracking students’ prior educational experiences last year as a way to target community outreach.

The school system plans to apply for a state grant to help pay for professional development and other efforts to reach and better prepare children for kindergarten. The grant funding is available to help school districts prepare communities for changes that target early childhood education, including an accountability system for early childhood programs and performance-based funding.

Last year, a coalition focused on early childhood education organized to prepare for the implementation of the changes.

Up to $350,000 in grant funding is available in the first year of the pilot, which Duay said she’d like to see used for training to meet state requirements and to address gaps identified by data.

The coalition’s work will be fueled by data, said Patti Endsley, who co-chairs the coalition. Endsley is the health and nutrition provider at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Child Development Center.

The goal is for child care centers to share their own data and for the district’s own school readiness data to guide training needs, she said.

“We’re also focused on educating parents on what school readiness is,” Endsley said.

Duay said the goal is to help parents identify options and resources to help prepare their children for school.

“That’s what we’re working on with our networking — to have some type of parent information where a parent can get information on all their different options,” she said. “We want to share information down to waiting lists so if the parent is on a waiting list with us, we can share that information and help them find a place for their child.”

Preschool and kindergarten registration for Lafayette Parish schools starts Friday. Duay said she’s requested that the district focus any new programs or expansions in the upcoming school year at the preschool level as a way to prepare more students for kindergarten.