At national summit, Fariña says she will keep ‘stress factor’ out of pre-K

Working toward an ambitious pre-K expansion, the city has already found space for new pre-K seats, started an intense recruitment push, and come to some conclusions about teacher pay.

Now, with only one month until an estimated 50,000-plus four-year-olds breathe life into the pre-K classrooms, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the administration is figuring out the right ways to evaluate its programs.

“We don’t want to make pre-K the new K,” Fariña said at a national pre-K summit on Tuesday. “We don’t want to bring down so much assessment to pre-K that we bring the stress factor one year less.”

A more important measure of success for pre-K is student attendance, Fariña said, which the city will monitor to gauge parents’ investment in their children’s programs. During her time as an elementary school principal, she instituted a policy where preschool students who arrived to school late had to be walked to class by a monitor instead of their parents.

“Every child made sure their parents got them to school on time,” she said.

Another marker of success for Fariña will be teacher satisfaction. She hopes that pre-K teachers will come to be thought of as some of the best teachers in the building and that they will choose to continue teaching pre-K, she said.

Since the city first announced its pre-K expansion plan, it has promised to send teacher coaches to visit programs and help students who are learning English. Officials have also said the city is adding staff members to monitor the programs and Fariña said Tuesday that some pre-K classrooms will serve as models.

While pre-K is heavily focused on social-emotional learning (Fariña said she is a “total advocate” of housekeeping corners), the chancellor thinks pre-K will show academic payoffs down the road, giving city students a leg up so they’ll be able to read at grade level by the end of second grade.

“You don’t get results overnight,” she cautioned.

Fariña was a panelist at the first annual Preschool Nation Summit, hosted at Scholastic’s Manhattan headquarters and organized by LAUP, a nonprofit that provides pre-K programming to over 11,000 Los Angeles students per year.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was the event’s keynote speaker, an indication of his growing role as a national pre-K figurehead.

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said the city is in the “unique position” of having both a governor and a mayor who support universal pre-K, which could make it “a real example for others around the country.”

Cities like Los Angeles are now looking to New York to see how its pre-K expansion plays out, LAUP CEO Celia Ayala said.

“If they could do it over there,” Ayala said of New York City, “We certainly could learn and then we could challenge our people back home.”

De Blasio did not shy away from the broader implications of his focus on pre-K.

“You see now the outline of a truly national movement,” he said. “We’ve got to say that full-day, high quality pre-K is going to be the national standard.”