With New York City kids heading back to school tomorrow, Mayor de Blasio’s new Pre-K For All Initiative will be providing 3- and 4-year-olds citywide a formal start to their primary education. Although there was excitement about the program, there was also concern about the shift from still providing half-day pre-K to exclusively full day options.
Mother and Bay Ridger Andrea Stockton has been on the front lines of the half-day pre-K debate from the beginning. I reached out to her to find out more about the issue and how it was resolved — or even if it was.
Tell me about NYC Parents for Pre-K Choice.
Andrea Stockton: I became active in the Pre-K conversation because my oldest child benefitted greatly from a gradual transition into kindergarten with a half-day Pre-K program and I want the same thing available for my other two children. In speaking with other parents in the spring, I found that many were also upset that the “Pre-K for All Initiative” only offered full-day pre-K. Our city has benefited from a universal half-day program for 18 years, and now all families were being told that their 4-year-olds should be attending preschool for over 6 hours a day. While this serves many families well, not all children and not all parents want or need a full school day at this age. I started a petition to give these families a voice, and became connected with some other passionate parents who also wanted the option of half-day for their pre-schoolers. We organized through social media as “NYC Parents for Pre-K Choice”, gained the support of the District 20 Community Education Council (CEC), sought the ear of the Chancellor and the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, made some connections with other groups including the Orthodox Union, and received noticeable attention in the media including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and local papers. The mayor’s response through it all was that “he was right” and that full-day Pre-K is best for everyone.
What inspired you to push for having a half-day choice?
Although initial reports had claimed that a “modest” number of half-day programs would be offered, the city administration seemed very reluctant to make this happen. When parents were told that it was time to register for pre-K through the new online system, only full-day programs were offered. The city and the mayor then boasted how popular their full-day programs were, without offering any half-day options! In May, the Board of Education finally started inviting programs to apply for half-day contracts, but gave them only three weeks to complete the extensive paperwork. Even though this deadline was extended one more week following political pressure, the truncated timeline (compared to the open-ended timeline for full-day) and lack of support for the application process, placed significant hardship on the schools who applied. We only finally heard about the approvals of 4,500 half-day seats on August 18, giving schools and parents only a few weeks before the start of school to get their ducks in a row.
Is 4,500 half-day seats enough?
It is impossible to know if 4,500 seats is enough to give each family a choice, since there was no choice initially presented. Moving forward into next year, the best way to discern the needs of the parents would be to accept applications from community-based preschools for full-and half-day programs simultaneously and then offer both types of programs to parents side by side when the time comes for registration.
The Administration, whether it’s damage control or not, appears to be saying that they were never going to get rid of half-day options. What have you found to be the case?
It is our impression that if parents hadn’t spoken up, that half-day programs would be a thing of the past in New York City. But we are grateful that the mayor and the city administration listened to parents and responded by approving some half-day programs.
How many locally are available and where?
Bay Ridge boasts some of the most vocal parents on this issue, including but not limited to the “stay-at-home” parent. All have their own reasons for preferring a half-day schedule for their four-year-olds. Many parents were excited to see the approval of 18 half-day seats at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool, alongside their 4 classes of full-day programming. Bay Ridge is also home to Tiny Tots Playhouse, a four-generation family-run business, which is currently offering 4 classes of half-day programming based on a previous contract that still has 2 years remaining. Hopefully when it comes time for Tiny Tots to renew their contract, they will still have the option of offering half-day pre-K for the families who want it!