Pre-K For SA Up for Discussion at Wednesday's City Council B-Session Meeting

Dr. Baray speaks to the City Council members at the B-Session meeting. (Photo Credit:  GA Media Productions )

Dr. Baray speaks to the City Council members at the B-Session meeting. (Photo Credit: GA Media Productions)

Article by: Jonathan Guajardo - Editor, The San Antonio Sentinel

Holding her own on the podium at the front of the B-session council chambers in the Plaza Municpal building, Dr. Sarah Baray, CEO of Pre-K 4 SA addressed the city council members in attendance. A program that opened its doors as recently as 2013 with 700 students, the initiative has since grown to enroll over 2,000 children in the current year with over 100 classrooms throughout the city.

 Dr. Baray began by listing off the organization’s four “areas of innovation” as well as three areas considered “In-Progress.” These areas are as follows:

  1. Outdoor learning

    • The main goal of this area is to connect students with their environment though physical fitness programs and programs geared towards “learning to sustain natural resources”

  2. Garden to Table

    • The purpose of this “area of innovation” is to make gear children at the Pre-Kinder age towards healthy eating habits 

  3. Civic Engagement

    • This portion of their program revolves around civic engagement and “instilling a love and appreciation for San Antonio” and “learning the benefits of giving back to the community”

  4. Arts Infusion

    • Involves teaching children to learn through the arts and other visual learning methods

Areas In-Progress:

  • Social-emotional learning

  • Aeronautical science

  • Coding and robotics

Also of notice in this B-session meeting was the mentioning of the Parents as Partners Program, which is an initiative where parents learn with support from educators through their involvement in four targeted committees:

  • Ambassadorship Committee

  • Home-School Partnership Committee

  • Gardening and Outdoor Learning Committee

  • Family Fit Committee

Dr. Baray then went though her presentation on competitive grants awarded to school programs through their involvement in the Pre-K 4 SA initiative. Describing that 42% of Grant Dollars ($1,627,225) were allocated to institutions with Tier 1 needs (basic staff training and curriculum needs), she then went on to list some of the benefits of the program to students who had attended. These purported effects included:

  • Children who attended both Pre-K 4 SA and a public school had a better attendance rate (7 weeks better attendance than peers)

  • The districts saved $23.2 million for better attendance

  • Drove “surge in awareness about Pre-K”

  • Math scores and reading scores better on STAAR test

Operating at full capacity in the 2017 fiscal year, 2018 saw the number of available faculty and staff positions reduced with expected reductions to occur in the 2019 fiscal year as well. An estimated 431 current positions will be maintained going forward towards 2020.

After wrapping up her presentation, Dr. Baray stood ready to answer questions from the council members in attendance. A majority of members were present at the meeting with only two absences noted: Councilman Saldana who would not be attending the day’s meeting and Councilman Brockhouse who would show up at 2:34 PM, in the early portion of Dr. Baray’s presentation.

The first round of questions hurled at the CEO of Pre-K 4 SA came from Mayor Nirenberg who questioned where the fund balance of fiscal year 2021 was going to. In answer to his question, Dr. Baray stated that, “the majority of it goes into grants.” The grants she’s referring to go towards school districts to support their Pre-K initiatives and keep them fully funded and staffed.

Councilwoman Viagran listens to Dr. Baray at the B-Session meeting. (Photo Credit:  GA Media Productions )

Councilwoman Viagran listens to Dr. Baray at the B-Session meeting. (Photo Credit: GA Media Productions)

The mayor then addressed the possibility of Pre-K 4 SA not receiving funding when it comes on the ballot again in 2020. Dr. Baray stated that they are preparing options for both possibilities and that if they do not receive the voters’ approval to go ahead with the continuation of the program, they will have a plan in place to begin dispersal of the facilities and other assets of the initiative.

The next round of questioning came from District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, whose main line of inquiries revolved around why the North East Independent School District received more money that Southside school districts such as the Harlandale. District. Dr. Baray explained that since the Northside districts serve a larger area, more children qualify based on income levels in the Northside. She further stated, in regards to charter schools and private schools receiving grants: “This is the first time we’ve ever awarded to charter schools. We are agnostic in our approach. Anyone is available to apply.”

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) then made inquiries on enrollment waiting lists, asking about their average number of students waiting for acceptance into the program. Dr. Baray answered that at the North center, it’s usually 2:1, while at the South center it’s much smaller because full districts often offer Pre-K. In addition, he questioned what the program is using their $800K marketing budget for, to which Baray replied that it is used in terms of generating awareness for enrollment and professional services. “The days of waiting for folks to show up at your door and enroll are over,” stated Dr. Baray. “People expect to understand what they’re getting.”