A Solution that Isn't

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By: Julie Jakopic, Board Chair

Growing up, I had two pre-k teachers: Mrs. Cook, who was kind and the one you could tell anything to, and Miss Lurton, the focused, learned disciplinarian.  If you were lucky to go to preschool, I bet you remember your teachers too. They were often the first adults outside your family you grew to depend on and trust.

The Alexandria City Public Schools Board (ACPS), working diligently to address the need for more elementary school classrooms, has requested $11.5 million in capital and operating funds in fiscal 2017 to lease a facility in order to relocate 360 (or more) 4-year old pre-k children out of school buildings.

We have studied this plan at Hopkins House, listened carefully to presentations by ACPS officials, spoken with School Board members, and participated in discussions with parents and preschool providers in the city.  Through this process, we are drawn to three areas of concern: (1) Isolating students from low-income families outside their neighborhoods, (2) Requiring their already stressed parents to travel across the city to access preschool for the children, and (3) The educational appropriateness of housing 300 plus 4-year olds in a single building.

The pre-k students served by the ACPS are either in Head Start or the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) and are by definition, from low-income and low-resourced families.  Alexandria has worked hard over the years to see that low-income families are not isolated in the city. This has helped ensure that all our neighborhoods have a healthy mixture of people of various socio-economic backgrounds living in them and, that children are learning with and about those whose lives are different than their own. 

The parents of these children are often single mothers and dads who work multiple jobs.  Many of these stressed parents are already asked to travel daily by public transportation to take their children to preschool.  This plan will exacerbate their stress.

While a single location for preschool, replete with "wrap around" services, may be more efficient, it also introduces the likelihood of stigma associated with going to that "special" school.  We often think 4-year olds would not be aware of such things, but as I said earlier, I bet you remember your own preschool experience – good, bad, and in between.  Our goal should be to encourage good experiences in preschool that help children grow into adulthood with a life-long love of learning.

There are many ways to achieve great educational goals in our city. Consider the following:
   • Instead of constructing/leasing buildings solely for pre-k, use the new buildings as part of redistricting to create neighborhood schools.
   • Spread this single proposed Pre-K Center into smaller campuses in neighborhoods across the city.
   • Partner with Northern Virginia Community College to provide on-campus learning for more of our high school seniors, thereby freeing up classroom space in ACPS buildings.
   • Take advantage of potential state resources by aligning with the mixed delivery system recently approved by the Virginia General Assembly for piloting in local jurisdictions.

We believe that centralizing pre-k is the wrong solution to the school district’s classroom capacity problem. We firmly support open discussion and debate about the school district’s pre-k proposal in order to better understand the impact this plan may have on our children, their families, and our city.

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