In Leander ISD, our priority is to provide the highest quality education to every student — from our youngest learners just starting on their journeys to our graduating seniors preparing to make their way in the world — to ensure they each leave our system with a bright future ahead of them. Maintaining this high standard often involves seeking out new and improved teaching methods. Starting this fall, we are very excited to roll out an innovative new system for our district-wide pre-kindergarten program.
At the start of the 2014-15 school year, after much research and planning, Leander ISD piloted an innovative new program called PreK Communities at Giddens Elementary School. The new program consolidates prekindergarten classes from several schools into a larger hub to create a world for 4-year-olds within an elementary campus.
The pilot expanded to Bagdad Elementary for the 2016-17 school year, with one bi-lingual teacher and three mono-lingual teachers. It proved so successful, LISD has opted to roll out PreK Communities for all pre-k classes starting in 2017-18. The Communities will be housed at five elementary campuses: Bagdad, Block House Creek, Faubion, Giddens and Grandview Hills elementary schools (the bilingual pre-k class at Reed Elementary School will remain unaffected). Pre-k students from, on average, three additional feeder elementary schools will join the Community at their host school.
Under the previous model, pre-k classes had one teacher per campus; class sizes remained fairly imbalanced between schools; and the half-day sessions were offered only in the morning or afternoon at some schools. With PreK Communities, students are assigned a “home” teacher, but classes spend more time together with two to four teachers collaborating together. Each campus will offer both morning and afternoon sessions, and class sizes will be more balanced because they will draw from several elementary attendance zones.
LISD’s senior early childhood coordinator, Erin Garner, who is overseeing the new program, has reported very promising results so far, with marked improvement in student learning outcomes, far fewer behavioral issues and increased best practice sharing between teachers. These innovations also allow us the opportunity to do more, to work smarter, by bringing students, staff and communities together. What a wonderful example of working to better serve our student while also making better use of district facilities and resources!
The host schools were selected because they currently have growth capacity due to smaller kindergarten through fifth grade student populations, which allows the Communities a larger footprint to establish their “neighborhood.” More space and more students sharing resources has also created an opportunity for the district to invest in additional and higher quality learning materials.
We understand that it can feel strange for some parents to send their child to a different school than they are zoned for; however, many of the parents I have spoken to said they enjoyed meeting new families from nearby neighborhoods and reported feeling an increased sense of community. Pre-k teachers involved in the pilot program also noted the feeling of community, praising their increased ability to learn and grow with their peers.
As a reminder, our free, half-day pre-k program is only open to students who meet certain eligibility requirements. Students must be 4-years-old on or before Sept. 1, 2017 to enter pre-k this fall and must meet one of the following: is unable to speak or comprehend English; qualifies for the national free/reduced lunch program; is homeless; is the child of an active member of the military, or one who was wounded or killed in action; or has ever been under the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services.
For more information about LISD’s PreK Communities and eligibility requirements, please visit our website and click on Prekindergarten under the Departments tab. I am so excited to see the amazing, inventive work of so many teachers and staff in our district. The 2017-18 school year is already shaping up to be one of our best yet!