Superintendent Jesse Register wants to expand pre-K at Metro Nashville Public Schools. Here are three takeaways from his pitch at last night's school board meeting:
1) The need. Of the nearly 8,700 children in Davidson County who are 4-years-old, slightly more than half of them are in private care or unserved by pre-K programs, according to district officials. Of those who are enrolled, MNPS provides pre-K to some 2,500 children. By 2017, census data predicts Metro will see more than 9,200 4-year-old children in the county.
Although various studies have different conclusions as to the effectiveness of pre-K, district officials are going on data that indicates quality early learning programs are a return on their investment by at least five-fold and that pre-K will increase student success in later years. In a district where more than 70 percent of children are economically disadvantaged, 15 percent are learning English as a second language and 12 percent have learning disabilities, district officials also point to research that suggests pre-K benefits all children regardless of income, primary language and learning ability.
2) The plan. For now, the district is looking to create two pre-K hubs: one in East Nashville at Ross Elementary and another in North Nashville at Bordeaux Elementary. The priority is serving low-income students although the district wants to ensure the schools are diverse.
These are the first steps of a larger plan that includes offering pre-K for free to every family in the county within the next three or four years. District officials are convinced part of the program could be done within the district’s budget and the part expanding pre-K offerings could cost about $1.9 million. The program would add new 260 pre-K students to the rolls in the next school year by opening the two “hub” school buildings. Register said he wants to see 500 new seats available next year, but this is the starting point.
3) The concerns. Elementary students currently at Ross or Bordeaux will have to be re-zoned to other schools, and in some cases new clusters. That means the district will have to sell the plan to people in those communities. Making the two schools hubs exclusively for pre-K and filling them with new 4-year-olds will also need financial support from the Metro Council and the mayor, who together hold the city’s purse strings.
School board members, while enthusiastic about the plan, raised some questions. The top concern was about the need to address students in the fast-growing immigrant communities in South Nashville, although there is talk in the works about trying to make that happen this year, said Register. Some board members were also concerned about ensuring that the district offer pre-K of quality.
The board is expected to vote on this proposal at next month’s meeting.
Here's the full play-by-play from last night’s meeting, which also included talk about district contracts with NCS Pearson, Inc. and Teach for America, Inc: