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Sarah Baray now has two days under her belt as CEO of Pre-K 4 SA, the City of San Antonio’s early learning initiative. The former Texas State University professor of education and community leadership feels right at home working with civic and business leaders as well as working with curriculum and instruction to address her passion for educational equity.
“(Pre-K 4 SA) connects to my skill sets, my interests, and my passions,” Baray told the Rivard Report on Tuesday. “Educational equity is at the core of every position I’ve had.”
Before working in higher education, Baray worked as a teaching assistant, teacher, and administrator within Austin ISD. She worked in the historically under-resourced, but rapidly changing Eastside of Austin, as well as in programs for students with visual impairment.
In regards to the financial investment required to create equity for all of these students, Baray agrees with experts across the nation who say the dollars spent on early education are the best investment communities can make.
“The education community has known this for a long time,” Baray said, adding that she is happy to see the business community recognize the value of early education as well.
Pre-K 4 SA is a true community investment, funded by a one-eighth cent sales tax approved by voters in 2012. When the time comes for voters to approve the continuation of the program, Baray hopes that San Antonians will acknowledge and value the program’s merits, which have already gained national recognition.
It was this recognition that led Baray to make the somewhat unconventional career change from professor to CEO. Pre-K 4 SA was like seeing her research come to life, as she described watching teachers freely utilize proven best practices in their classrooms as “heaven.” The opportunity to expand the conversation to the rest of the nation through professional development was like a dream come true.
“The opportunity to be part of a program that’s really leading the way is just too exciting to pass up,” Baray said.
Under the leadership of former CEO Kathy Bruck, who announced her retirement in March, Pre-K 4 SA became a national model for early education. The architects of the program were aware that there were more children in San Antonio than could be served on the Pre-K 4 SA campuses, but they refused to lower their goals.
While critics claim that the 2,000 students served by brick and mortar facilities are too small a number to merit the price tag, the professional development and grant making arm of the program aims to extend its reach throughout the city and beyond.
“Pre-K 4 SA is really about ensuring that all the young learners in San Antonio are successful,” Baray said.
The community and business support that San Antonio’s program has built makes that feasible, and Baray is ready to strengthen those connections even more.
“From the beginning, what was really compelling about Sarah is that her background and experience fit this interesting intersection where Pre-K 4 SA sits,” said Paul Chapman, spokesman for Pre-K 4 SA.
Baray intends to deepen the program’s reach into each branch of that intersection, particularly into partnerships with local ISDs, which is where the value of the program will be proven.
“Pre-K 4 SA is one year in the education pipeline,” Baray said.
She also wants to continue to build professional development for daycare providers and training for parents, the “first teachers” for many children.
All of these connections should be based on best practices and sound research. Children should be developing with age appropriate milestones and assessments, not just generating easily crunched numbers.
The obsession with skills that look academic and tests that make for easy data collection have shortchanged the learning process for many students. Baray pointed out that early learning is difficult to measure, because it is foundational. It is the root, not the fruit. The fruit often doesn’t show until around third grade.
This is a difficult balance for Pre-K 4 SA, as taxpayers expect to see easily digestible results. They want numbers to show success or failure. However, the most accessible data is not always the most complete, nor the most revealing.
“Real success doesn’t show up for several years,” Baray said.
While Baray and other local educators throughout the pipeline do see a place for standardized tests, they scoff at the idea that these are sufficient measures of a child’s intellectual or academic development. By acknowledging the different pathways of learning, schools can allow teachers to teach the students in their classrooms rather than sticking to a narrow channel where only a few succeed.
“Fidelity to best practices in early education is where you’re going to get the best payoff,” Baray said.
One of her goals with Pre-K 4 SA is to develop metrics and measurements that capture some of the more conceptual learning stages that occur during a child’s early years. By fostering the culturally responsive learning methods she’s already seeing in classrooms, Baray trusts that the process will deliver favorable long-term results.
Top Image: Sarah Baray is the new CEO of Pre-K 4 SA. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.