President M'Lissa M. Chumbley.
The Northside ISD board of trustees, led by President M'Lissa M. Chumbley, votes to expand the district's pre-kindergarten program. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Northside Independent School District, the city’s largest school district, is planning to expand its pre-kindergarten offerings.

The Northside school board voted unanimously Tuesday to endorse the concept of extending half-days to full days for 4-year-olds eligible for pre-K classes and to non-qualifying, tuition-paying 4-year-olds on a limited basis. Non-qualifying students would get an extended-day option, too.

Northside currently offers pre-K classes to qualifying students at a majority of its 79 elementary schools and served a more than 3,000 pre-K students in 2017-18.

District officials agreed expanding the pre-K program would benefit the growing community. An increasing number of area school districts are either extending their pre-K offerings or are considering it.

This surge of pre-K expansions around San Antonio comes on the heels of recent research that demonstrates the positive effects of programs such as the City-funded Pre-K 4 SA on students.

In a separate vote Tuesday, the school board approved amending the 2018-2019 school year budget to spend $2.15 million to prepare 30 schools to accommodate the extension of full-day pre-K classes. The preparations mainly will involve furniture and minor improvements.

Northside estimates it will spend another $8.57 million in 2019-2020 to fund costs related to the pre-K expansion, mainly for staff compensation. The dollar figures are based on projected student population growth, not on anticipated revenue from tuition or other sources for the pre-K expansion.

Superintendent Brian Woods said because this is the first time that Northside ISD is expanding its pre-kindergarten program, recurring costs could change depending on resulting community demand for the offerings. The district could also modify the number of schools providing pre-K programs.

Janis Jordan, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said “[district] phones have been ringing off the hook” from parents who have heard about Northside’s proposal to extend its program.

“What we’re trying to do is accomplish a significant expansion to full day and also something that stays within the budget and becomes sustainable and long-term,” Woods said. “We will have to test demand and try to accommodate that.”

District administrators will work with campus principals on the program expansion. The district’s communications department will help to develop a plan to promote the extended pre-K offerings to the community, primarily using NISD’s website, social media, and publications.

Board President M’Lissa Chumbley said she liked the planned expansion of the pre-K program, but expressed worry that the district’s marketing plan might not reach families who do not have internet service at home or cannot access the NISD’s typical outreach methods.

She said district officials should “think outside the box” and communicate with churches, campus-based social workers, and others to promote the extended pre-K offerings to ensure the information reaches families who would benefit the most from the program.

“I’m concerned for a certain group of families, and they could be families that don’t have internet service, who don’t use social media, that are not at our schools,” Chumbley said. “How do we reach them?”

Patricia Sanchez, NISD’s executive director of elementary curriculum and instruction, said she and her colleagues will do what they can to ensure outreach is comprehensive.

Chumbley also said the marketing plan should appeal to families who may be interested in the tuition option.

“If we market this correctly, we could have a great impact,” she said. “We have a lot of parents who’d be interested in having pre-K with us and paying tuition versus [using] day care.”

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.