The citizens of San Antonio have an opportunity with Pre-K 4 SA to join together to address a growing challenge in our community — the education of our youngest and most needy students in Pre-Kindergarten. There is a much-studied and widely held consensus of thought among educators and business leaders that investing in the earliest years of a student’s school career will provide the greatest success in academic preparation and graduation rates.
School districts have been working on this issue for a number of years. They all recognize the importance of Pre-K education, but they are facing massive state funding cuts and, in many of the districts, severe facility overcrowding. This has resulted in half-day rather than full-day programs for a majority of Pre-K students. As this young population continues to increase in numbers in future years, districts will be hard pressed to continue their excellent programs in place.
With no new state revenue forecast for the next session, we need to create new solutions. Led by the vision of Mayor Julián Castro, the City Council has approved a new plan for voter consideration this Tuesday. A small portion of the sales tax — 1/8-cent, which will cost the median San Antonio household just $7.81 per year — can generate revenue that will be used to create Pre-K centers of excellence. These centers will serve all the districts and will provide full-day education for hundreds of students each year. They will also provide places for all Pre-K teachers to observe, discuss and create even better teaching methodologies for students in the centers and in the local districts. Instead of duplicating efforts as some critics have mistakenly charged, the City-run schools will harness the combined energy of all the districts to generate greater insight into early year education.
Partnerships between the City and ISDs are nothing new. Several years ago when the Stone Oak area was growing so rapidly that the city could not provide public library services to the area, Councilman Tim Bannwolf and the North East ISD worked to create a joint public/school library at Reagan High School. We had to think differently and create new solutions so that the community could have such essential services until a new stand-alone library could be built. We had many issues and shortcomings but the young and old of the Stone Oak area had library services for more than a decade through this cooperative effort.
From the lessons we learned at Reagan, the NEISD Board of Trustees worked with Councilwoman Ivy Taylor to join with the city to create another partnership at Roosevelt High School when that school was rebuilt. The Molly Pruitt library is a vibrant center of learning for students and citizens to enjoy for many years to come.
Similarly, while building and improving roads, street lights and bridges are not usually considered primary functions of school districts, NEISD has worked with a long line of north side council members — Larson, Webster, Schubert, Haass, Wolff and Chan — to build the infrastructure that facilitates access to schools.
San Antonio is a growing community filled with creative and caring people. We need to consider the common good when thinking about this issue. A better educated community will mean a higher quality of life for far more people. It is a bold idea. It is time to come together as San Antonians for our future generations.
Richard Middleton is a retired superintendent of the North East Independent School District.