A series featuring communities that have a plan to expand preschool.
In Pittsfield, we know how important early education is. Children who don’t get a strong start can’t read proficiently by third grade. In our city, 2017 MCAS data shows that only 44 percent of third graders are proficient in English and only 44 percent are proficient in math. We want to see these numbers improve because, to put it bluntly, children who struggle to read may also struggle to succeed.
Because helping children takes a team approach, in 2012, the Berkshire United Way formed Pittsfield Promise, a coalition focused on ensuring that our third-graders can read proficiently. To achieve this goal, members of the coalition work closely with early childhood programs, social service and health providers, businesses, and community members.
In 2016, Pittsfield was awarded a preschool expansion grant. We are using this funding to create a collaboration between the Pittsfield Public Schools and two local center-based early childhood programs.
In this mixed-delivery model, the Pittsfield Public Schools is the lead partner and fiduciary agent. The public school system will provide space for two classrooms; busing; access to needed services, such as occupational, physical, and speech therapy; and professional development training. The schools will track children’s progress and provide a data specialist to analyze outcomes.
The two center-based programs will be chosen through a competitive bid process. To apply, each agency must have NAEYC accreditation, a QRIS level 3 rating, and a license from the Department of Early Education and Care that’s in good standing.
These two programs will hire their own teachers, substitutes, and bus monitors. However, they will share a program director and a family engagement specialist. These shared leadership roles are designed to ensure that the two programs communicate and cooperate.
We’re excited about this work, but one grant only lets us take a few steps forward. To serve all our children, we urgently need more funding. That’s why we’re joining Strategies for Children in asking our legislators to pass and fund the bill “An Act Ensuring High Quality Pre-Kindergarten Education (H.2874 / S.240).”
If this funding came through, Pittsfield would be ready because we already have a preschool expansion plan. This growth is essential, especially for Pittsfield children living in poverty. Data from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission indicates that over the past 11 years, there has been a 15 percent increase in our city’s family poverty levels. In fact, 59.8 percent of our kindergarten families are economically disadvantaged.
Children in these families are our most vulnerable residents and they need additional support so that when they walk into school, they are ready to learn. Sadly, too many children don’t get the help they need. About 40 percent arrive in kindergarten with no preschool experience. That’s a shame because as the Center for American Progress notes, “preschool leads to increased earnings down the road”, less grade retention, reduced demand for special education, and higher high school graduation rates.
So please join us in asking the governor and the Legislature to invest in high-quality early education. Help us close the achievement gap and give children the opportunity to thrive.
Submitted by: Stephanie Adornetto, Coordinator of Early Childhood Development, Berkshire United Way