When LaToya Cater-Murray enrolled her daughter Aubrey at Douglas MacArthur Girls’ Leadership Academy
, she knew that preschool was important to her daughter’s lifelong learning success, as well as her social and emotional well-being, but she was impressed with the outcomes.
“I like the idea that preschool gives children choices,” she says. “I feel like it's important for children to actually have a choice in the activities that they want to participate in, that produces [an] outcome of learning. When I'm at home and I see my daughter counting and spelling words, it makes me feel confident as a parent that my daughter [will] be ready for kindergarten.”
Also, Aubrey is excited to go to school every day, Cater-Murray says. “I feel that preschool has helped my daughter in a social-emotional way because I feel she can problem solve,” she says. “She works well with a group of friends. It also provides her choices and opportunities where she can advance with her communication skills.”
Five years after launching PRE4CLE
—a plan to expand high-quality access to Cleveland preschools for all of the city’s 3- and 4-year-olds—officials and educators are celebrating the many milestones reached since March 2014.
PRE4CLE Executive Director Katie Kelly
After five years, 24 of Cleveland’s 34 neighborhoods have seen an increase in the number of students enrolled in high-quality preschools, with a combined rise of 2,300 seats, prompting five big reasons for PRE4CLE to celebrate:
- 19,000 kids have attended high-quality preschools in Cleveland in the past five years;
- PRE4CLE has reached 25,000 families through its enrollment campaigns;
- 179 high-quality preschool programs in the city have three-, four-, or five-star Step Up to Quality ratings;
- PRE4CLE has secured $57,000 in new state funding for local early education programs;
- and high-quality preschool enrollment has risen 72%.
“We have 4,903 new students in high-quality preschools,” says PRE4CLE Executive Director Katie Kelly. “We’re really proud of that accomplishment. We're also encouraged to see many more high-quality preschool seats in neighborhoods throughout the city, increasing access for families in the neighborhoods where they live."
PRE4CLE released its annual report
for the 2018-19 school year last week. Developed by more than 50 community leaders and guided by the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact, the public-private partnership is part of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District
’s Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools
. It includes leaders from education, government, community organizations, business, and religious groups who are committed to working together to implement and support the goals of the PRE4CLE plan.
The annual report illustrates how all the work done by PRE4CLE and its partners has paid off and is worthwhile.
“Every single child born in this community is a bundle of potential,” says Marcia Egbert, senior program officer for human services at the George Gund Foundation and co-chair of the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact. “And every single child in this community deserves an opportunity to explore the depth of that potential. We think that early-childhood education is one of the key paths for doing that.”
In addition to highlighting the past five years’ many accomplishments, the annual report looks at where PRE4CLE must go in the future. For example, the Obama White House and national media outlets like the Huffington Post
, Education Week
, and PBS NewsHour
have recognized PRE4CLE’s work as a groundbreaking effort in education.
“I think the thing that's unique in Cleveland, and PRE4CLE is a model of it, is that Cleveland has solved our education problem by making it everybody's problem,” says Eric Gordon, the Cleveland school district’s CEO and the co-chairman of the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact. “And so the partnerships that we've brought together, the foundations, the county, and the support there, the business community support, the school district and private providers all coming together is unique to the city of Cleveland. When you look across the country, you just don't see that kind of collaborative effort to solve the challenges of education, and it's really the only way we're going to do it.”
As they reach the five-year mark, Kelly and other educators involved in this private-public partnership are looking back and examining where Cleveland stands on its education initiatives.
Some of the positive changes reflect results from four main efforts, Kelly says:
- Helping existing preschool programs increase their quality to meet a high-quality standard, as determined by Ohio's Step Up to Quality rating system for early education;
- reaching out to families to communicate about the importance of high-quality preschool, and providing resources and support to help them find and enroll in the right preschool for their child;
- creating additional seats in targeted neighborhoods;
- and advocacy to government and community leaders to help expand resources for early learning access and quality.
“All the research that we've seen says that investing in children as early in life as possible, from the very beginning, really pays off down the road in their future academic success and really in their life success,” says Egbert. “So we thought that it is a fundamental pillar of investing in our community, in a solid education system, in our future workforce, and in making Cleveland the very best place for families it can be.”
The goal was to have 45% of Cleveland’s 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in the 173 high-quality preschools by 2019. PRE4CLE came close, at 43%, and has its sights set on reaching 50% enrollment by 2020.
A high-quality preschool meets a three- to five-star level in Ohio's Step Up to Quality system and is characterized by environments that are fun, welcoming, safe, and caring; staff and teachers who are well-trained and professional; research-based curriculum and feedback to the parents about their students’ learning; educational activities that prepare students for kindergarten; and creative and imaginative play to inspire a lifelong love of learning.
Cleveland currently has 11,400 preschoolers. Before PRE4CLE started, 2,857 children were enrolled in high-quality preschools in 2013, and that number has increased steadily—from 4,080 in 2015 to 4,903 in 2019.
“We’ve made a lot of gains through these initiatives,” says Kelly, citing five neighborhoods—Downtown, Euclid-Green, Stockyard, Detroit Shoreway, and Goodrich-Kirtland Park—as the areas with the highest enrollment increase since 2014.
This progress is due in part to concentrated efforts to increase enrollment in areas with a high population of young children, Kelly says.
“That strategy has helped us convene preschool programs and other community partners to be more planful about how preschool seats are added throughout the city,” she says. “We also focus our efforts to raise quality in the same targeted way.”
Their efforts have been more effective in some neighborhoods than others, Kelly says, but they are optimistic that the strategies will continue to benefit every part of the city. Neighborhoods like Clark-Fulton, Old Brooklyn, Kinsman, Broadway-Slavic Village, and Mount Pleasant continue to see 10 to 29%, while Buckeye-Woodland and Lee-Seville have less than 10% enrollment in high-quality preschools.
Kelly attributes the low numbers in part to a lack of suitable school buildings. “In some neighborhoods, there just are not the right physical spaces to open a high-quality preschool, and that’s been a key challenge to increasing access,” she says. “For preschool, you want buildings that are of course in good condition but also offer natural light, updated electrical and other safety conditions, green space for a playground, and adequate indoor space for classrooms and indoor physical activity.”
PRE4CLE and its public and private partners are addressing the challenges in these underserved neighborhoods, Kelly says. “Other neighborhoods may have more providers that are lower quality and still in the process of working toward a higher quality rating,” she says. “Those providers are working with PRE4CLE throughout lead agency Starting Point
to help achieve a higher rating.”
Not only are more kids attending high-quality preschools, the efforts are paying off in kindergarten readiness. PRE4CLE set a goal—and achieved it—of having 65% of its students place in the top two tiers of Ohio’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, up from 60% in 2015. And 29% placed in the top tier—all of them showing they were prepared to move on to kindergarten.
Douglas MacArthur Girls’ Leadership Academy preschool teacher Sara Burdette is just one of many making sure Cleveland students get the head start they need to begin kindergarten equipped with a lifelong love for learning.
“The routines that are established in a pre-k classroom are going to prepare your child for kindergarten,” she says. “They are going to become independent thinkers. Those are things that we want to see our children achieve and be able to continue through the rest of their learning career.”
The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment measures early literacy skills, early math skills, positive interactions with teachers and peers, the ability to succeed in the classroom, and an enthusiasm for learning.
Additionally, PRE4CLE aimed to have half of its students be on track in the language and literacy component of the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, up from 45% in 2015.
“My goals are to prepare my students for kindergarten and the rest of their educational careers,” she says. “It means instilling them with the knowledge of letters, letter sounds, vocabulary, numbers, friendships, how to talk to each other, communicate.”
The numbers are encouraging, Kelly says. “We are thrilled that kindergarten readiness levels are continuing to rise as more children have access to high-quality preschool,” she says. “Making that happen was truly a community-wide effort, and we look forward to continued growth during the next five years.”
Goals for the future
While PRE4CLE officials are proud of their accomplishments in their first five years, Kelly says work remains to be done.
“The first five years of PRE4CLE were really about building a strong foundation, including having enough preschool seats across the city to serve children, especially making sure each neighborhood had what they needed and making sure the quality of our programs were increasing to align with the state's Step Up to Quality system,” Kelly says. “And so, we've really reached a great point.”
One of the first steps is working with the state of Ohio to ensure all state-funded early childhood programs are highly rated by 2025.
“In order to reach our goal of every 3- and 4-year-old in Cleveland having access to high-quality preschool, we need to make some big leaps in a couple of areas that are critical to preschool quality and access,” says Kelly, adding that the right program support is critical. “We have to work with our leaders at the state level to ensure that more families have access to affordable childcare. We are encouraged that Gov. [Mike] DeWine has committed to increasing the number of families that can access state supports for childcare in the next state budget.”
But PRE4CLE is also working with 2019 Say Yes Cleveland—an organization supporting Cleveland school district students from preschool through grade 12 and offering college scholarships—to make sure the preschool component is covered.
PRE4CLE plans to spend the next five years addressing issues of racial equity in Cleveland’s early childhood education programs. And, of course, the city needs to be equipped with enough space to accommodate all of Cleveland’s preschoolers in new or renovated buildings—especially in those neighborhoods lacking good facilities—while also supporting and recruiting talented preschool teachers.
“We also need the right physical spaces to create new high-quality seats, which is related to the increasing access in each neighborhood,” Kelly says. “And we need better support for our incredible teachers, to make sure they have the compensation, professional development, and classroom supports they need to do the amazing work that they do and grow in their profession.”
Kelly says she is looking forward to PRE4CLE’s next five years, and she’s optimistic the organization will continue to make a positive impact on early childhood education. “We still have a long way to go, but we are building that strong foundation,” she says. “And so, the next phase of PRE4CLE is really how do we go farther? How do we go deeper? And how do we make sure that our kindergarten readiness numbers continue to climb?”