Without wasting any time, really, the Alexandria School Board moved April 16 to create a new position to lead the development, implementation and coordination of early childhood programs throughout ACPS and the city as a whole.
Facing the cold reality of the recent graduation and dropout statistics released by the Virginia Department of Education an overall 11.1 percent dropout rate and 76.4 percent on-time graduation rate the new position dovetails neatly with the renewed, ongoing discussion about the importance of quality preschool and the ways in which it can positively affect student achievement.
This year, 26 percent of incoming kindergarten students did not attend pre-school, ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman said, adding that the early childhood specialist would work to increase the percentage of children attending preschool through securing funding to improve the quality of pre-kindergarten opportunities, as well as their availability.
With the implications the decision could have for Alexandrias youth, its somewhat hard to believe that the vote was essentially an impromptu one.
Originally scheduled as a discussion item on the April 16 agenda, Sherman had hoped to see the issue come to a vote at the boards next meeting, allowing ACPS staff to go about the hiring process.
Board member Scott Newsham moved to approve the position that night rather than waiting until the boards next meeting in May.
It seems to me like theres unanimity here; it seems like this is something that we want to do, Newsham said. I dont see how waiting three weeks is going to make this better.
The early childhood specialist position was also included in the superintendents drafted Action Plan, the schools roughly articulated plans of how to go about executing the new ACPS Strategic Plan.
The motion stated that the new position was a direct outcome of the schools 2010-2015 Strategic Plan.
I think this really is an action proposal that will stop a lot of the redundant discussions and meetings and committees that have been going on for many, many years in Alexandria, board member Eileen Cassidy Rivera said. I think this is really going to be the lightning rod that is going to make us move forward.
Research on the effects of early childhood education bode well for potential improvement in Alexandria schools.
According to a February 2009 brief published by the National School Boards Assocation, children who participate in high-quality programs demonstrate greater interest in learning, are less likely to repeat a grade or require special education classes and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.
In addition, every dollar invested in preschool programs can save as much as $16 later on in reduced education, public safety and other societal service price tags, according to the NSBA.
Although increasing the availability and quality of early childhood opportunities in Alexandria could well pay dividends in reducing the achievement gap among ACPS student groups, it does little for those students who enter the system later in their school careers, another fact that the schools are addressing.
The early childhood specialist will report to the deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and will work in close concert with the Campagna Center to support Head Start programs in ACPS schools, according to the job description posted on the schools website.
I would hope that there will be a really close alignment with our public and private pre-school providers and our public kindergarten, that we have close programmatic alignment and curricular alignment, said Kris Clark, ACPS executive director for elementary education.
One of the primary responsibilities will be to encourage more pre-school opportunities for students, public or private, she said. The goal is that every kindergartener comes with a high-quality pre-school experience.
Little will change with the Campagna Centers role in the process, with nine Head Start pre-school locations throughout the city, except that they will be working more closely with the schools than before.
Im very excited about it, I think its a wonderful thing and I totally support the position, Campagna Center President and CEO Karen Hughes said. It will just be more of an oversight and alignment change. Now, instead of the city doing all of the monitoring, the school system will be monitoring us programmatically.
If the post is filled before the end of the current fiscal year, the board authorized it to be funded with vacancy savings, according to the motion passed April 16.
Stimulus funding will finance the position during FY 2010.
This really is one of those policy positions which is beneficial to all children, regardless of economic background, board member Sheryl Gorsuch said. And good for the economy too. With both short- and long-term gains, its an investment which creates education, jobs and better outcomes for children.