by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, September 2014) The Cleveland Metropolitan School District hopes that in the near future a higher percentage of Cleveland children will be able to enroll in high quality preschool programs.
On August 22nd, the first day of preschool at Tremont Montessori School, parents shared their thoughts about the value of preschool. CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon and Katie Kelly, the newly appointed executive director of PRE4CLE, gave an update on efforts to expand the number of high quality preschool slots available in Cleveland. PRE4CLE, an early learning compact among many community partners, is charged with working to increase the number of quality preschool slots available to Cleveland children.
Parents praise pre-school
Pierre Sain and Javin Polk, parents of three children that have participated in the preschool program at Tremont Montessori School, testified as to the quality of the program, and the difference it has made for their children.
Sain said their daughter Kaylissa, who is now in third grade, learned to read and write full sentences while in preschool. Polk added, that by the end of first grade, “She was reading to us.”
Sain said, their son, Pierre, who is now in the first grade, is ahead of all his peers in vocabulary and is reading at a third grade level.
JáVierre, now age four, is the third child of Sain and Polk to participate in the preschool program at Tremont Montessori. JáVierre started in the preschool program at age 3, so he is now entering his second year in preschool. Sain and Polk said prior to going to preschool JáVierre was “unfocused and not enthusiastic about learning.” Sain and Polk said that during his first year in preschool JáVierre loved to come home and tell them about his day and what he learned in school. He learned to count to fifty and by 10s to one hundred, they said. Polk says LáVierre was bored this summer and she gave him some number flash cards. She said he arranged them in order from one to twenty.
Polk says the preschool also helps students to get along with others. She says her children come home every day and tell them about a new friend they met in school. She praised the program and its teachers for helping children to improve their social skills and learn to get along with others. Sain encouraged parents to start their children in a quality preschool program at age three. “I would start early,” he said, “it is really beneficial.”
CEO Eric Gordon
CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon praised the Tremont Montessori School as a model example of progress from long standing partnership with Cuyahoga County’s Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) program. He noted Tremont Montessori is an original UPK site in Cuyahoga County. He said Cuyahoga County is an excellent partner in helping PRE4CLE to leverage capacity to increase the number of quality preschool slots available.
Gordon said in an effort to increase the number of children benefitting from preschool, 260 more quality preschool spaces have been added so far this year in CMSD schools. PRE4CLE has worked with its community partners to add certified teaching aides to existing classrooms and to create new preschool classrooms to make this happen, said Gordon.
Gordon said all of those spaces are assigned to students and there is now a waiting lists for children to get into the preschool program. With the addition of these 260 new slots “there are now 1,020 children currently enrolled in high quality preschool at CMSD,” according to a Malissa Bodmann, a PRE4CLE consultant from Advocacy and Communication Solutions
Gordon noted that PRE4CLE is also working with private day care providers such as Staring Point to create additional quality day care spaces. Those providers have added over 75 more quality preschool spaces, said Gordon. With these additional slots private providers in Cleveland are currently enrolling 648 four-year olds and 662 three-year olds in high quality preschool programs, says PRE4CLE consultant Bodmann.
Stressing the importance of high quality preschool, Gordon says students that have attended a high quality preschool achieve higher scores on tests that measure kindergarten readiness. Those that are kindergarten ready, do better throughout their academic career, he said.
Gordon emphasized that in addition to high quality learning, students are engaged in imaginative play in preschool and stressed, “pre-school does not eliminate the fun of being a four year old.”
In the first two years of the PRE4CLE compact, from 2014-2016, the goal is to increase the number of high quality preschool slots for 4 year olds by 2,000 slots. When that effort is complete, three year olds will be targeted. Katie Kelly, PRE4CLE’s new director, said PRE4CLE is well on its way to creating 1,200 additional high-quality preschool slots for four year olds this year (2014-15 school year).
PRE4CLE: The Cleveland Pre-K Implementation Plan produced by the Cleveland Pre-K Task Force says the program will work with providers who have a State of Ohio Step Up to Quality rating of 3 Stars or better. It will work with those providers to improve their ratings to 4 or 5 stars.
Speaking of how high quality preschool classrooms are measured PRE4CLE Director Kelly said, “These classrooms are highly rated by Step Up To Quality, (www.earlychildhoodohio.org/sutq.php.) Ohio’s quality rating improvement system.” PRE4CLE is also working with community partners to reach out to parent and families to raise awareness of the importance of quality preschool and of the quality pre-school opportunities available, she said.
The process of increasing the number of children in quality preschool slots, also means increasing the number qualified preschool teachers. To that end, PRE4CLE states that “Starting Point has trained 27 preschool classroom aides in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to achieve their Child Development Associate Credentials; an additional 56 Infant/Toddler, Preschool and Family Child Care Providers in the City of Cleveland received training in June on selecting and using a developmentally appropriate curriculum and assessment.”
The CMSD News Bureau reports that a study by Case Western Reserve University presented in March of 2014 indicates “only 2,857 Cleveland children ages 3 to 5, fewer than one in five, were enrolled in high-quality preschool last year.” PRE4CLE says that in 2013 there were 10,013 preschool slots available in Cleveland. However, only 3,530 slots were rated as high quality slots by the State of Ohio and of those slots, only 2,857 were filled.
If PRE4CLE successfully adds or fills 1,200 seats this year, that would bring the number of children in quality preschool seats in Cleveland to 4,057. However, estimates in the PRE4CLE: The Pre-Kindergarten Plan indicate that 3-5 year olds in Cleveland numbered 16,353 in 2013.
So even if the implementation is successful this year only 25% of Cleveland’s 3-5 year olds will be in high quality rated preschool classrooms. PRE4CLE will have a long way to go to meet its stated goal of enrolling 70% of Cleveland’s 3-5 year olds, over 11,000 children, in quality preschool programs.
PRE4CLE’s implementation plan says it will assure that at least 2,000 additional 4-year olds are enrolled in high quality Pre-K sites in 2016 (from a current level of 1,200 four year olds in quality preschool slots.) PRE4CLE says this will be done by ”filling at least 250 currently available but vacant high-quality enrollment, adding 1,000 newly created high quality enrollment, and helping more programs join the state’s Step Up to Quality program which identifies high-quality programs in each community.” 750 quality spots for four year olds are expected to come through existing preschool programs that are preparing for State of Ohio Step Up to Quality ratings or waiting for results of those ratings.
If the effort is successful, this will mean over 6,000 children ages 3-5 years enrolled in quality preschool classes by the end of 2016. With roughly 16,500 children ages 3-5 currently in Cleveland that would mean serving about just over 36% of Cleveland 3-5 year olds by 2016.
Kelly says, “while the ultimate goal of PRE4CLE is to make high-quality preschool available to every preschool-aged child in Cleveland, but we anticipate, based on research from other similar programs the ‘take-up rate will be 70%.” She says currently serving 70% of all preschool age children in the city of Cleveland would mean serving 11,447 children ages 3-5 years.
Kelly said the Cleveland has one of the most developed plans to expand and improve preschool in the state of Ohio. She said CMSD is currently using federal Race to the Top Challenge grant dollars to upgrade the quality of its preschool curriculum. In addition, as the CEO mentioned, the Cuyahoga County Universal Prekindergarten program provides PRE4CLE with funding to expand high-quality spaces in existing UPK classrooms and also expand half-day preschool into full-day preschool.
A CMSD News Bureau press release indicates that the school district has committed $2.5 million to the PRE4CLE effort this year and Cuyahoga County has committed an additional $1 million this year.
The goal is to raise $35 million over the next two years from public and private sources. Kelly expects part of that to come from Federal Preschool Development funds. She says Ohio applied for $80 million in federal funding to expand preschool programs. Kelly says nationally less than a third of children are in high quality preschool programs. PRE4CLE estimates implementing the preschool expansion will cost $15 million the first year and $20 million the second year.
While preschool providers are not required to participate in PRE4CLE, the program says it will offer those that do participate: “financial support for expansion; potential tuition assistance for eligible families; access to professional development for staff; marketing and outreach for their programs; connections to other supports and partnerships; and supports for helping ensure each child’s successful transition to kindergarten.”
Preschool providers interested in submitting an application to be accepted as a high-quality provider can contact the CMSD Office of Early Childhood Education for more information at 216-838-0231 or download the full report on PRE4CLE at www.clevelandmetroschools.org/pre4cle.
While the CMSD preschool slots are free to children living in the Cleveland school district, PRE4CLE says funding it receives will provide tuition assistance for quality private preschool slots.
When funding is available, the program also plans to provide assistance with transportation for preschool students.
In addition to providing transportation assistance, PRE4CLE has promised to provide additional preschool classrooms in underserved neighborhoods. The West Boulevard neighborhood and the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood are among the neighborhoods listed as being close to capacity in filling available preschool slots, while the Ohio City neighborhood is listed as a neighborhood with unused capacity. West Boulevard, Central, Glenville, Old Brooklyn, Broadway-Slavic Village and Kamms’ Corners are listed as having the city’s highest populations of children ages 3-5, totaling 39% of the city’s total.
For information about enrolling in a CMSD preschool parents and guardians can contact CMSD’s Office of Early Childhood Education at 216-838-0231 or visit the website at www.clevelandmetroschools.org/pre4cle. For information on the private pre-K openings available, parents or guardians should contact Starting Point at 216-575-0061.
Editor’s Note: According to the CMSD News Bureau, The Cleveland Early Childhood Compact picked Starting Point, a referral agency for early childcare in Northeast Ohio, and the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County to manage PRE4CLE. Newly hired PRE4CLE Executive Director Katie Kelly is described as a lifelong Clevelander, and former Executive Director of groundWork, a statewide group that advocates for quality early-childhood education.