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City-Based Prekindergarten Officials Meet in N.Y.C. to Share Experiences

Leaders from 12 cities and localities from around the country are meeting in New York City Thursday to learn more about the Big Apple's speedy scale-up to universal prekindergarten

New York City's prekindergarten program has grown from about 20,000 free, full-day seats in 2013-14 to over 70,000 this school year. The program is offered both through district-run schools and through community-based organizations throughout the city.

New York officials say the "learning lab" will also allow preschool leaders to learn from each other's efforts and to forge connections for the future. Prekindergarten officials are coming from Boston, Chicago, Dayton, Ohio; Mesa, Arizona; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tulsa, Okla.

"We think that cities have a particularly good vantage point to bring high-quality programs to scale quickly," said Josh Wallack, New York City's deputy chancellor for strategy and policy, in an interview. "At a city level, you really can get to know the organizations and schools that are running pre-K, and you can deploy support in a targeted way." 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made universal prekindergarten a centerpiece of his leadership and who lobbied for $300 million in state funds to expand the city's prekindergarten, said in a statement that cities play an important role in expanding early-childhood education.

"Municipal governments must work together to share best practices and lessons learned, and this summit is an essential step in building a strong network of policymakers who, together, will continue to advocate for expanded access to quality early education for every child nationwide," de Blasio said. 

Wallack said that the day-long conference will focus on three important issues that New York faced: handling parent outreach, managing the diverse groups that deliver prekindergarten programming, and maintaining program quality. To that last point, Wallack said that the city "needed to build a system for quality professional standards and learning, to help every program improve every year." While professional development had always been available to early-education programs, the city now uses data to offer focused training based on a program's needs, Wallack said.

Connecting City-Based Prekindergarten Programs

Many of the early-childhood officials are coming from cities that have a lot of experience running prekindergarten programs, such as Boston and Tulsa. Others programs are on the launch pad: In June, Philadelphia became the first large city to pass a beverage tax, which will in part pay for expanded prekindergarten.

Some of those cities reached out to New York to find out what it was doing, and New York City leaders in turn contacted other cities to find out if they were interested in networking. Sarah Beray, the chief executive officer of Pre-K 4 SA in San Antonio, said she leaped at the opportunity to meet with other city prekindergarten leaders. San Antonio's prekindergarten program is in its fourth year and serves about 2,000 children.

Speaking before the meeting, Beray said she has a list of topics she'd like to address with fellow city prekindergarten leaders, including what people are learning about "quality vs. access," research findings, program structure, and garnering political support for more city-based early-education efforts.

"My day-to-day focus is on San Antonio, but my aspiration is for the nation," Beray said. 


Related stories:

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