Thursday, August 4, 2016

Spring Branch ISD Receives $1 Million State PreK Grant

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has awarded more than $1 million to Spring Branch ISD to improve the quality of its prekindergarten programs.

SBISD was one of 578 district and charter schools to earn a grant under one of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority initiatives, or the House Bill 4 High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant. Under the $116 million grant program, school systems may receive additional funding for qualifying PreK students in addition to the half-day Foundation School Program funding that Texas supports for eligible students.

The TEA grant is designed to improve the quality of programs in areas ranging from curriculum and teacher qualifications to academic performance and family engagement. SBISD was one of the first public school districts in the nation to offer full-day prekindergarten to all qualifying 4-year-olds when it opened five prekindergarten centers 15 years ago.

Board of Trustees and district support for early childhood education were underscored last year when prekindergarten teacher assistants were fully restored to all classrooms after the assistants were reduced due to state education cuts made in 2011. SBISD now provides a 24:2 student to teacher ratio, or lower, in all PreK classrooms.

SBISD’s state grant, paid out in two installments, is exactly $1,063,010. The district has enrolled up to 2,000 PreK students in recent years, and its earliest enrollees are now district graduates and attending colleges, universities and technical certification programs.

“This grant allows us to provide comprehensive improvements in our already highly successful prekindergarten program,” said Sharee Cantrell, the district’s early childhood program director.
She also leads the Lion Lane School for Early Learning, one of five district PreK centers. “We are fortunate to have this grant to enhance a program that Spring Branch ISD has supported for so many years.”

“As we follow our student’s careers and long-term data, we know that students who’ve attended our prekindergarten programs outperform those who did not, from elementary school all the way through their high school End-of-Course (EOC) exams,” she also said.

Extensive research supports that high-quality prekindergarten programs have other benefits and results in cost savings to communities as students graduate and reach their adult working years.

In SBISD, the $1 million grant will be used in multiple areas – to support personalized learning opportunities, hire staff members for teacher training and classroom coaching as required in the grant, update instructional supplies and provide reading-level appropriate books, among others.

In addition, a Communities in Schools social worker will coordinate family engagement, which will include an early education tool for parents and families called ReadyRosie. The tool allows parents to use mobile phones or home computers to access brief instructional videos in Spanish and English that model or encourage everyday home interactions between parents and children.
The grant will also fund a student assessment tool that will allow teachers to make instructional choices based on immediate feedback on student strengths and needs in academic areas, social-emotional learning and even physical health. District and state comparisons may be conducted.

Gov. Abbott named early education as his top legislative priority, but in the end the qualifying districts including SBISD saw potential grant amounts decline by almost half. Grant awards in Texas ranged from $3,600 total in small districts up to $9.2 million in Houston ISD, the state’s largest award.

Some school districts declined awards because of related state requirements, or due to fears of action by legislators that might reduce or cancel the grant program in the future.

While focused on 4-year-olds, the TEA grant may improve key district measures like SBISD’s post-secondary T-2-4 goal for all graduates to pursue military or technical training, or earn two- or four-year college degrees, SBISD Board President Karen Peck told one local news reporter.

“Although T-2-4 looks at post-secondary success, that success begins with a solid foundation. In SBISD, the first building block of that foundation is our outstanding PreK program,” Peck said.

“We appreciate the State’s award of this grant and would urge the State to increase the funding it makes available for prekindergarten,” Board President Peck also said. 

SBISD registration is now open across the district for prekindergarten centers for the 2016-2017 school year.
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