DN: Full-day prekindergarten is set to launch for thousands of children in the city

Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News, 8.28.2014

After months of feverish preparation, New York City will launch next week one of the nation’s most ambitious experiments in public school education reform: full-day universal prekindergarten.

More than 50,000 children have already registered for classes, the Department of Education has secured, inspected, and outfitted hundreds of sites in community-based organizations and existing schools, and thousands of additional teachers have been hired.

Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña proudly said Thursday that pupil enrollment figures have nearly reached their first-year goal of 53,000.

But many of us have yet to grasp the magnitude of what is taking place as de Blasio rushes to make good on his biggest campaign promise.

Total full-day pre-K enrollment will top the total number of students in Seattle public schools last year (49,000). And the increase in pre-K slots (30,000) from last year will almost equal the entire enrollment of Cincinnati schools (32,000).

From now on, every public school child in this city, regardless of his or her neighborhood, income or race, will have the chance at an additional year of education.

The impact will be felt most among low-income and minority students, who traditionally have missed out on quality early childhood instruction compared with those from affluent families.

At the same time, many working-class and middle-class families will save thousands of dollars that they would otherwise have had to pay for private day care.

“We know the investment at the pre-K level means they are school ready when they get to kindergarten,” said Jonah Gensler, associate director at Sunnyside Community Services in Queens, which will operate two pre-K classes.

The response from parents at places like Sunnyside has been phenomenal.

Last year, the center operated two half-day programs, but could only fill 30 of its 36 slots, because many working parents needed a full-day program.

When de Blasio (r.) ran for mayor last year, his biggest promise was he’d deliver full-day pre-K. Now the program is set to launch.

This time around “it’s been like night and day,” Gensler said. Not only has the center filled all 36 full-day slots, it has nearly 20 children on a wait list.

“We had a parent orientation meeting this month and more than 95 people showed up,” assistant director Chaka Blackman said. “That’s huge for the middle of the summer.”

Gensler has hired an additional teacher, teacher’s assistants and an aide, and substantially raised their pay rates, thanks to the allotment he got from the city.

“In addition, we received $19,000 just for startup,” he noted. “To be able to have everything from pencil sharpeners to more new desks and chairs, has helped a lot.”

Given the program’s vast scope and how quickly de Blasio has pushed to implement it, there are bound to be some rough spots and foulups along the way.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has vowed that full-day pre-K will be a success.

But if it succeeds, universal full-day pre-K could dramatically alter public school achievement levels in this town — and spur similar change around the nation.

De Blasio and Fariña have mobilized all the resources they can to make it happen.

“This is our signature initiative and this is going to work,” the chancellor vowed. “There is nothing I’m leaving to chance.”

Next week we’ll start to see how well they’ve done.




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