Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

In the latest issue of The Gateway Cities Journal, which is published by MassINC, Holyoke Pubic Schools Superintendent Sergio Páez wrote the lead article on early education. MassINC has increasingly supported high-quality early education in the Gateway Cities, as it does in its recent policy report — “The Gateway Cities Vision for Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems.”

For today’s blog, we’re reposting Páez’s piece, courtesy of MassINC:

“The Early Education Drumbeat Reverberates in Gateway Cities”

By Sergio Páez

From President Obama and Governor Patrick to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, our elected leaders are launching into 2014 with calls for new investments in high-quality early education. Big city mayors like Marty Walsh and Bill de Blasio are fighting hard to expand preschool access. As the New York Times reported this week, Republicans and business leaders are also increasingly supportive of efforts to expand public investment in early education.

This growing drumbeat is music to the ears of Gateway City superintendents. Consider: 60 percent of three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in preschool in New York City; in Boston, more than two-thirds (67 percent) of young learners have this experience. If we were making pie charts, Holyoke would be the near inverse, with just 39 percent of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

The reality is the majority of students enter our kindergarten classrooms lacking formal early learning experiences. This has fundamental consequences for both individual students, who start out underprepared to keep up with today’s fast-paced curriculum, and for our schools. With so many of our students starting behind, we are consumed by the task of catching them up, often at the expense of students who enter better prepared. Because preschool enrollment tracks closely with income, this reality makes it difficult for us to provide the strong educational experiences that should be the hallmark of our inclusive communities.

Governor Patrick’s FY 2015 budget lays out a sizable increase in state early education investment. His approach represents incremental progress. If all of the 2,400 additional pre-K seats his budget funds went to Gateway City students, they would be filled by only one out of ten three- and four-year-olds who aren’t currently enrolled.

Gateway City leaders are working hard to build dynamic, 21st century learning systems that support students and families from cradle to career. In Holyoke, we’re working to “walk our talk” by convening more than 20 partner organizations in four highly active work groups (focused on kindergarten readiness, PreK-3 instructional improvement, student attendance, and family engagement) in the collective work of our Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative. We believe that this effort, coupled with increased state investment in early childhood education in our community, has the potential to result in dramatic and sustainable gains in literacy and overall achievement in Holyoke in the years to come.