path to pre-k

Six charter schools now making final plans to launch pre-K this fall

Charter schools will be able to launch pre-K programs for the first time this fall.

Six charter schools will offer pre-kindergarten classes for the first time next year, and will be able to keep those students for kindergarten, solving a key concern of charter leaders.

Together, the six schools will serve only 198 pre-K students, according to the New York City Charter School Center. That’s a tiny fraction of the city’s total charter school enrollment, and a reflection of a short application period and lingering questions about facilities and enrollment. Now, most of the approved schools say they now have the answers they need and are focused on attracting students.

Five of the schools – Academic Leadership Charter School, Bronx Charter School for Better Learning, Hellenic Classical School, Renaissance Charter School and Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School – are just waiting on final funding approval, set for a vote by the Panel for Educational Policy later this month. Montessori Charter School was given the green light in June.

State law requires charter schools to accept their students through a lottery, and that won’t change for pre-K students. But students attending pre-K at a charter school will have enrollment preference to return to “automatically” feed into the school’s kindergarten the next year, according to guidance from the state.

Stacey Gauthier, principal at the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, said not being able to retain those students may have been a dealbreaker, and now that the policy is clear, she’s excited to have students starting at the school at a younger age.

“It helps to start them off on the right foot. The pre-K program will be very experiential,” Gauthier said. “They’ll get into very good habits and learning to work with other students.”

Gina Sardi, who heads the Montessori Charter School, which was approved for 52 pre-K seats last month, said without that guarantee, the school would not have started a pre-K program either.

The schools have slowly learned more information about different requirements they will have to meet and tasks they must complete before school starts in the fall, she added, noting she’d received emails with more information nearly every week this summer.

“The answers have been trickling in,” she said. “We’ve had information sessions, and basically those were so that they could gather the questions they needed to ask.”

Charter schools learned they’d be able to apply for state funding for pre-K in late April, but faced a short turnaround to put forth plans, which stopped many from applying. The city extended the deadline twice to give charter schools a chance to have policy questions answered—including whether they would need to revise their charters, which spell out how many students the school plans to serve.

In mid-June, the State Education Department told schools they would not need to revise their charters, though New York City Charter Center CEO James Merriman said his organization is urging schools to communicate with their authorizers about whether they should amend those documents.

“No one can argue that this doesn’t contribute to the number of children served,” he said.

With answers to those questions in hand, many of the schools are ramping up their preparation efforts. Gauthier said her school has already hired a pre-K teacher, and has shuffled classrooms so that the 18 new students are in a classroom that fits state regulations. Now, she’s working to outfit the classroom and prepare a curriculum.

Shubert Jacobs, principal at the Bronx Charter School for Better Learning, said the school had leaned on the leader of its Jump Start program, which trains early education teachers, to guide their preparation process.

Their new pre-K class will include 18 students, less than its kindergarten class which has 80. The Jump Start team has helped the school to create its pre-K curriculum, outfit a classroom and work on a budget, Jacobs said.

But Hellenic Classical Charter School is still looking to hire its pre-K teacher and a teaching assistant, and is locating a space for the classroom. The school has planned an open house for potential families, as well as set a date for its application deadline and lottery.

“I think we’re moving forward beautifully,” said Christina Tettonis, the school’s principal.

That work is made possible because lawmakers removed some funding barriers that kept charter schools from offering pre-K in the past. A few charter schools and charter management organizations, like Harlem Children’s Zone, have run programs through community-based organizations.

Eleven charter schools applied to offer programs directly this year, and none of those were a part of the city’s largest networks. Merriman said he expected those numbers to change as schools use more time to prepare.

“Everything tells me that we’re going to see a lot more schools applying in 2015,” he said.

Sarah Darville contributed reporting. 

By the numbers

As city gears up for year three of its pre-K expansion, applications hold steady

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

More than 68,000 New York City children applied for full-day pre-K this year, jumpstarting the third year of the city’s expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The total number of applications is in line with last year’s total, but the Bronx and Manhattan both saw drops in the number of families that applied. The Bronx had a 5 percent decrease, from 14,280 applications last year to 13,529.

Brooklyn, the borough with the greatest number of families who applied for pre-kindergarten, saw an increase, with 22,046 families applying — up from 21,500 families last year. Staten Island and Queens saw marginal increases.

The number of applications is just shy of de Blasio’s original goal of enrolling 70,000 four-year-olds in pre-K. The city pointed out that the number of applications represents three times the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-K before the expansion started in 2014.

De Blasio’s push for universal pre-K has largely been seen as a success, with seats generally meeting or surpassing quality standards. A recent, limited survey found that families said that pre-K saved them money and helped their children learn.

This year, the city has made a few changes to the application process. The application period opened earlier to give families more time to decide where to apply. Families will also receive offers in early May, a month earlier than last year.

Families who have not yet applied will be able to apply to programs with available seats from May 2 to May 20.

pre-k report card

City touts record 68,500 students in pre-K, releases data on program quality

PHOTO: Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K in Queens on March 14, 2014.

The city released new data Friday about the quality of its rapidly expanded pre-kindergarten program, which officials touted as evidence that the program has maintained high standards even as it enrolled nearly 50,000 additional students over the past two years.

With free full-day preschool as the centerpiece of his education agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio has more than tripled enrollment since he took office — leaving some observers to wonder whether the city was trading quantity of seats for quality. The new data, compiled from reviews of a portion of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites that were conducted from 2012 to the present, shows that the quality of New York’s pre-K program is on par with other cities.

The inspected sites on average met or surpassed the national average on a measure of teacher-student interactions, according to review of 555 cites. On a different measure, 77 percent of reviewed sites earned a 3.4 or above on a 7-point scale, which city officials said is the benchmark that programs must reach to have a positive impact on students.

However, Steven Barnett, a professor at Rutgers who is an expert on preschool programs, said that programs should strive to score a five or higher on that scale. The results are promising, he added, but should be seen as a baseline that the city should improve upon.

“They’re OK, but they’re not nearly as good as they should be five years from now,” he said. “It’s not an overnight process.”

Officials also announced that pre-K enrollment reached over 68,500 — just shy of de Blasio’s goal of 70,000 — and said that a recent crop of new students came primarily from low-income backgrounds. Of the 3,000 students who have enrolled since September, 90 percent live in zip codes with incomes below the city’s median.

The pre-K expansion has been one of de Blasio’s only initiatives to garner positive reviews from most observers.

“We’re proud Pre-K for All is performing on a level with some of the most highly-regarded programs in the nation,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The education department used two observation-based measures for the report.

The first, known as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, focused on how teachers interact with students. It uses smiling and laughter to gauge school climate and judges the quality of questioning in a class. The second, called the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, used room set-up and student hygiene, as well as the quality of instruction.

More than 1,000 pre-K programs were evaluated using the second measure in the past three years. On average, they scored 3.9 on the 7-point scale. City officials said a 3.4 is correlated with “improved student outcomes,” including better reading, math, thinking, and social skills.

Barnett, who has studied New Jersey’s celebrated pre-K expansion, said it’s encouraging that categories like “language” and “interaction” were scored higher than “space and furnishings” or “personal care routines.” That implies physical space and classroom routines weighed down the ratings, not teacher instruction, he said.

New York’s scores align with pre-K programs in other cities. New Jersey’s Abbott program scored a 4.0 on the ECERS-R scale in 2002-03, just 0.1 points higher than New York’s rating.

Not all of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites were evaluated, but soon the city plans to assess all programs. Every three years, each pre-K program should receive both ratings, city officials said.

City officials said they will direct more resources to pre-K programs with low scores on these measures, including extra social workers or more professional development.

They did not offer any specific plans to close struggling pre-K programs based on these observations, though they said that is a possibility in the future. The officials also said they would consider a site’s scores when considering whether to renew providers’ contracts.

For K-12 schools, the city publishes data in annual progress reports for parents. City officials did not say they plan to present pre-K information in a similar way, though all of the data is available on their website.