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We want to give every four-year-old in Nashville access to prekindergarten

UPDATE: The Board of Education approved turning Ross and Bordeaux Elementary Schools into model pre-k centers for the 2014-15 school year, as well as creating new pre-k classes at Casa Azafran on Nolensville Road. This is the first step in our pre-k plan. Step two means adding 340 new pre-k seats to these schools, which is dependent on funding. Next year's operating budget goes before the Board, the Mayor and the Metro Council later in the spring.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools will be a national model for early childhood education.

You’ve heard a lot about it this week. It’s one of Dr. Register’s top priorities for Metro Schools and one of the best ways to make a real difference in student achievement. It benefits all students, helps close achievement gaps and gives a particular leg-up to low-income and English learner students.

We’re serious about expanding prekindergarten, and cannot wait on the state or others to help fund it.

“We have set ambitious goals for equity and excellence in our public schools. In order to meet those goals, we must start early, with every child, offering the very best foundation for learning," says Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register.

Our idea is this: prekindergarten for every four year old in Nashville who wants and needs it.

Four-year-olds in Nashville

As a first step, we propose expanding and reconfiguring what we already have. Rather than try to add individual classrooms here and there, we propose opening model pre-k centers in existing schools in key areas of town: East and North Nashville.

The idea is to convert Bordeaux and Ross Elementary Schools into model pre-k centers that only offer pre-k classrooms. We chose those two schools because they are in walkable neighborhoods but also close to interstates and main roads. They will be easily accessible to many families.

What does a model center look like?

  • Stimulating and supporting interactions between teachers and children
  • Focus on academic preparation AND social-emotional development
  • Individualized instruction for all students
  • Comprehensive services, including for parents and families
  • Educated and well-trained staff
  • Coaching and mentoring for staff

But of course quantity isn’t the only concern. There must be a focus on quality for every pre-k seat we offer. In these centers, students will get full-days of instruction (8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), along with fee-based before and after care. They will be in nurturing learning environments that stimulate and support their cognitive, social and emotional development.

We are working with leading early childhood education experts from area universities to ensure these schools will truly be model centers, modeling best practices for early childhood education and offering wraparound services to students and families. They will also serve as professional learning communities for educators, spreading these best practices throughout the district.

To further serve and better identify our gifted and talented students, gifted education will be available at our pre-k centers, should the plan be implemented. These centers will serve gifted students all day, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., using curriculum designed to nurture and advance their talents.

So what will this look like in reality? If approved, this plan would move existing pre-k classrooms into Bordeaux and Ross Elementary Schools while also creating brand new pre-K classrooms in these buildings. Let’s look at the raw numbers:

Ross Elementary School

  • 13 pre-k classrooms, including 7 new ones
  • 260 pre-k students
    • 120 students currently served at Caldwell, Ross and Glenn
    • 140 additional students served in the 7 new classrooms

Bordeaux Elementary School

  • 10 pre-k classrooms, including 6 new ones
  • 200 pre-k students
    • 80 students currently served at Cumberland and Bordeaux
    • 120 additional students served in the 6 new classrooms

TOTAL: 260 new pre-k seats for the 2014-15 school year

To make this a reality, the Board of Education must vote to approve this plan in an upcoming meeting. Any additional costs will then be included in the district’s capital and operating budget requests to the city.

The school board’s approval is all that is needed to change to the use of Bordeaux and Ross elementary schools and change the elementary school zones. Metro Council has line-item approval on the district’s capital budget and also approves an overall amount – but not specific items – for our operating budget.

Research shows pre-k benefits all children. Further, benefits exceed costs to the community. There are long-term improvements to high school graduation rates, years of education, lifetime earnings, crime and teen pregnancy – even in instances when pre-k does not show a difference on test scores.

READ the research into the long-term benefits of pre-k that go well beyond test scores.

To make a real change in student achievement and overall outcomes in Metro Schools, we will start at the very beginning. Connecting four-year-old children in Nashville with a structured, supportive and educational environment will benefit our community.

See the full presentation on the pre-k expansion plan given to the Board of Education on January 14, 2014.