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Investments in a few can pay off for many: When voters chose to provide high-quality Pre-K for a small percentage of the city’s children, they probably didn’t know how widely the benefits would be shared.
Pre-K 4 SA, the full-day prekindergarten program that also offers free afterschool care, is extending its reach beyond the city’s four Education Centers, by offering Summer Academies for early childhood educators in San Antonio and beyond. The idea is to prepare schools and teachers for the eventual arrival of the program’s four-year-olds by giving those teachers the same tools used by the Pre-K faculty.
Pre-K 4 SA CEO Kathy Bruck and Linda Hamilton, head of professional development, are overseeing the new program.
The innovation bubbling up at the education centers has created a laboratory for best practices that Bruck and Hamilton are eager to share throughout the metro area’s public education system.
“We were going to change the trajectory of education across the board in San Antonio,” Hamilton said.
To that end, Pre-K 4 SA now serves as a consultation and training resource to enrich education across the city, not just within its own doors.
During the school year, 14 coaches from Pre-K 4 SA are working as consultants in schools where individual teachers or administrators have requested an observation to help educators hone their skills.
These sessions are different from professional review observations that teachers often dread. Pre-K coaches do not give feedback to anyone except the teacher under observation, so their findings are not part of a professional evaluation. The teachers feel free to try different things, knowing that they will get constructive feedback on what works, how to make it work better, and what might be undermining their success.
“Because we’re not an evaluator, it doesn’t carry the fear for the teacher,” Bruck said.
The coaches do spend time with district leaders and school administrators to understand the goals they have agreed upon for their faculty. They can tailor their evaluation to include those goals, so that teachers are not getting conflicting feedback.
The coaches also work with teams of teachers trying to achieve a specific outcome, or even a whole grade level to boost effectiveness for every student. They currently are working with early childhood through third grade educators, aiming at the fundamental years where flexibility and creativity can deepen a child’s love of learning before they reach the age where high stakes testing becomes part of their school experience.
The Pre-K coaches also reach out to childcare centers, often staffed by non-professionals with little or no training in early childhood education. Pre-K 4 SA also hosts resource fairs called “Voices for Children” that put materials into the hands of caregivers who work with children from birth to age four.
The resource fairs also offer live training to help caregivers understand the skills that will most benefit children as they transition from home care or daycare to school.
In Edgewood ISD the coaches worked with two elementary schools on a program designed to make classrooms more interactive. It was so successful that two other elementary schools quickly adopted the program, giving a boost to the entire district.
The summer academies are geared more to traditional professional development. The academies bring in national experts to lead seminar style classes, so that teachers can absorb information while free from classroom duties. The coaches are around as well, making appointments for observations when the school year starts.
Originally, Bruck and Hamilton planned to have six academies this summer, but high demand led to a seventh academy added to the schedule. Within a week of opening registration, all academies were fully booked with educators from across the state. All seven of the program’s partner districts have representatives participating in the academies.
This hunger for high level instruction seems to imply that not only are children hungry to learn, but their teachers deeply desire the resources and freedom to do their jobs well. Teachers want access to best practices and innovative ideas the same as web designers, architects, doctors, and other professionals. Pre-K 4 SA is committed to providing that development opportunity.
Professional development of this caliber would ordinarily cost districts thousands of dollars. Pre-K 4 SA is a public resource, free of charge.
“It’s rare that for no charge at all they can get a professional in there to help them with implementation,” Hamilton said.
This sort of generosity and efficiency is what taxpayers should expect when they make a bold investment like Pre-K 4 SA.
*Featured/top image: Teachers learn to add music and movement into their lessons at a Pre-K 4 SA Summer Academy. Photo by Bekah McNeel