Education Week - April 24, 2013 - (Page 12)

12 EDUCATION WEEK n APRIL 24, 2013 n San Antonio Sets Sights On Leadership in Pre-K CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 sive parental supports. The action will take place in four new or retrofitted 50,000-square-foot state-ofthe-art school buildings located at the corners of San Antonio’s highways for easy access. “It’s entrepreneurial, it’s ambitious,” said Mr. Castro, a 39-yearold Democratic Party darling who gave the keynote speech at the party’s national convention last summer. “We saw a gap that existed in access … and are convinced that the city can fill that gap in an effective way,” he said in an interview this month. Articulating the Need The need for such a plan was articulated in 2011 by a mayoral task force made up of business leaders, superintendents, and education professionals in reaction to numbers showing that San Antonio—a city of 1.36 million people, making it the country’s seventh largest— has a population with low college attainment, said Jeanne Russell, the mayor’s education adviser. The task force was also contending with kindergarten teachers who were complaining that children weren’t prepared, she said. Moreover, she said, business leaders from Toyota, the computing firm Rack Space, heb grocery, and the insurance company usaa said they wanted to hire locally, but couldn’t find qualified applicants. Ms. Russell said there seemed to be an important hole in the city’s education system: While federal and state dollars provided money for preschool services like Head Start or school district pro- grams, only 3,400 children attended for some portion of the day throughout all 15 districts. Some 2,300 families were eligible but not served at all. (Overall public school enrollment in San Antonio was about 315,000 in the 2011-12 school year.) Preschool is key to future academic success, the Castro camp argues, citing research from pre-K programs in Michigan, New Jersey, and Oklahoma showing children who receive high-quality services are better prepared to compete with their peers by 3rd grade. “The best chance to ensure a child gets ahead is to make sure they never get behind in the first place,” said Mayor Castro, who is himself the parent of a 4-year-old daughter. “If we do this right, I’m confident it will be a model.” The Pre-K 4 SA initiative is ramping up just as early-childhood education takes the national spotlight. President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget, for example, proposes that the federal government spend $75 billion over the next 10 years for the effort. Part of that money, if approved by Congress, would be allotted to states in the form of grants, which Texas could apply for and possibly parcel out to programs like Pre-K 4 SA. Promoters of Pre-K 4 SA offer that San Antonio is trying something innovative by launching a city-school district partnership. “I think for the nation, [Pre-K 4 SA] is a terrific model,” said San Antonio native Delia Pompa, who is also the senior vice president for programs at the Washington-based National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group. “They’ve met the first challenge, … which is get- ting people talking to each other.” “This is phenomenal,” added Iliana Alanis, an assistant professor of early-childhood and elementary education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “They’re not just doing the academic piece, they’re treating the whole child. It’s a huge undertaking.” Hard Sell Selling the plan has been a challenge at every turn, said Ms. Russell, the mayor’s education adviser. First, Mr. Castro—who took office in 2009—had to convince voters that the city should increase revenue to finance Pre-K 4 SA. San Antonio was entitled to a larger chunk of sales tax than it was collecting under Texas state law, but it had to seek voter approval to spend it. The money—an eighth of a cent per $1 of taxable purchase—would cause the average tax bill to increase $7.81 a year. The pitch made Bob Martin, a certified public accountant, livid. He is the president of the Homeowner-Taxpayer Association of Bexar County, in which San Antonio is located. “People were questioning, ‘What is the city doing in the school business?’ ” he said. “We already had 15 school districts.” Mr. Martin dismisses the program as an expensive duplication of services, one that doesn’t have enough research behind it to show it pays off. Moreover, he argued, a Corralling Local Support Still a Challenge By Julie Blair San Antonio In a city where 15 independent school districts share the task of educating about 315,000 of San Antonio’s students, Mayor Julian Castro still has a tough push ahead of him as he launches a citywide public preschool program. So far, only seven of the city’s 15 school districts have agreed to partner in “Pre-K 4 SA,” the city-run preschool program that will help 22,400 mostly poor 4-yearolds when fully implemented in 2020 at a cumulative cost of $313.9 million. Participation requires districts to give up both control and large amounts of money. In exchange, the Castro administration promises the districts will receive larger numbers of better-prepared kindergartners, more-informed and involved parents, teacher professional development, and a shot at competitive grants. Cautious Support While some participating districts are enthusiastic, others say they’re not quite sure what they’re in for. A third camp is worried about not getting a fair shake, but felt compelled to join when voters pushed through a tax hike last November to pay for Pre-K 4 SA. “By no means was this clear-cut for us,” said Aubrey Chancellor, the senior director of community relations for the 68,000-student North East school district, whose board agreed on a 6-1 vote in late February to join the partnership. “We don’t have waiting lists. We felt we were educating our kiddos and doing a good job.” She said her district currently has 1,350 children enrolled in half-day, state-funded preschool, but expects that number to grow when 80 students move to the fullday Pre-K 4 SA program. And because in Texas, education money follows the child, $3,200 will be transferred from her district’s pot to that of Pre-K 4 SA when those students move. That means the money will no longer be available to pay for busing or administrative costs. In the end, the school board’s consensus was that the voters had agreed to the plan, she said. “We didn’t have the right to take the choice away from them,” Ms. Chancellor said. The mayor’s team is quick to point out that the districts will receive many ben- efits through the partnership, the largest of which is a well-prepared K-12 population that will make up the workforce of tomorrow. “There is a real consensus in our community that we absolutely have to get our arms around this educational challenge,” said Jeanne Russell, Mr. Castro’s education advisor. She added that more of San Antonio’s high school graduates should be enrolling in college than are doing so now. Districts and taxpayers will “touch, feel, and reap the rewards,” she argued. District Benefits For starters, the city’s districts will have an opportunity to apply for competitive grants totaling $5.4 million—15 percent of funding collected under the new tax, starting in 2016. That money will serve 1,700 children, in part by extending current preschool services offered by winning districts. Staff members in all partnering school districts will also be entitled to intensive professional development provided by master teachers both at the Pre-K 4 SA school sites and in their own home schools. That help will also be extended ABOVE: Daniel Leza, right, and Michael Miller install the heating and cooling system at the Pre-K 4 SA Education Center, which will house the San Antonio preschool program’s administrative offices and 25 classrooms. San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro thanks supporters and staff as voters in November approve a tax to finance his ambitious preschool proposal. His wife, Erica Castro, holds their daughter Carina, 4. to charter and private preschool providers that send children to San Antonio’s K-12 schools. In addition, monthly workshops with master teachers will also be offered for “informal” child-care providers—the abuelitas, or grandmothers, and other baby-sitters of the community—to focus on strategies for teaching literacy and numeracy. It is believed that the informal sector cares for many prospective Pre-K 4 SA pupils, Ms. Russell said, as their parents are ineligible for state or federal programs. All the new services will greatly improve the knowledge of entering kindergarten classes throughout San Antonio, Ms. Russell said, and make it easier for districts to hit their grade-level markers. Still, some remain skeptical. One superintendent who asked not to be named said that while preschool is important, Pre-K 4 SA will drain local coffers and the perks won’t measure up: For example, professional development won’t likely be tailored to a specific district’s needs or be provided on a timeline that truly helps. It would be cheaper, that administrator argued, to simply pay for a consultant to come in and provide tailored help. “If anybody knows education, it’s us, so why can’t they just give us the money?” the administrator said. “It’ll have the same effect, and we’ll maintain control.”

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 24, 2013

Education Week - April 24, 2013
Union Sues Over Basis of Appraisal
In San Antonio, Pre-K Initiative Sets Steep Goals
New Teachers Search for Place in New Orleans
FOCUS ON: CAREER READINESS: States Seek High School Pathways Weaving Academic, Career Options
News in Brief
Report Roundup
PARCC Proposes Common-Core Test Accommodations
Some States Seek GED Alternative as Test Price Spikes
Blogs of the Week
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Online Socialization Is Hot Topic Among Researchers
Overhaul of the E-Rate Seen as a High Priority by FCC Commissioner
Comments Weighed on Vending Machine, ‘A La Carte’ Proposals
Corralling Local Support Still a Challenge
FOCUS ON: CAREER READINESS: Swiss Academic, Career Paths Designed to Cross
Obama’s Proposed Fix on Student Loans Ruffles Allies
Head Start Officials Tight-Lipped on Which Centers to Lose Aid
Policy Brief
Legislative Briefs
School Safety Legislation: A Tally by State
LAUREN BLAIR ARONSON: Advice to TFA From a Former Insider
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace

Education Week - April 24, 2013