President Obama will visit City of Decatur Schools pre-k on Thursday. (My 14-year-olds attend Decatur schools and attended pre-k at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center that the president will visit.)
Oddly, Decatur schools are closed this week as part of the district’s balanced schedule calendar, which features a shorter summer and week-long breaks throughout the year. Many folks had vacation plans already in place and are out of town. (Some families went to Washington, D.C. Turns out that they’d have had a better chance glimpsing the president if they stayed in Decatur.)
Apparently, Decatur intends to reconvene its pre-k for the president’s visit. I’m not sure how many 4-year-olds from the pre-k classes can be rounded up Thursday. The quandary for parents may be: Go to the beach or go to school to meet the president? I would suspect most 4- and 5-year-olds would take the beach, but their parents may disagree.
College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur also houses early learning classes for 3-year-olds and younger, and those programs are in session this week. So, the president will see children regardless of how many Decatur pre-k students give up a vacation day for his visit and remarks. And as one poster noted, the purpose of any presidential visit to a school is not for the president to see schoolchildren, but for the president to be seen.
According to the AJC:
Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program will get a turn in the national spotlight this week when President Barack Obama uses Decatur as a backdrop to promote an education initiative to give low-income preschoolers an earlier start on their schooling.
Although White House officials are mum on the details, several people briefed on the plans said Obama plans to address a proposal that would give more 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families a chance to go to pre-k programs. On Thursday he will visit Decatur’s College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center.
College Heights’ website says the school serves 326 children through a partnership with City Schools of Decatur and Partners for Community Action, Inc. (Head Start Program).
Georgia is a fitting place for the announcement as the state was considered far ahead of its time two decades ago when it used lottery funds to launch a statewide pre-kindergarten program. In recent years, though, flattening lottery revenues and increasing enrollment have forced the state to reduce pre-kindergarten schedules and increase class sizes.
“Our pre-k program is still a national example. But certainly we can do more to increase quality and access,” said Mindy Binderman, the executive director of Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, an advocacy group. “We have to be sure we don’t rest on our laurels.”
Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said the president’s expected proposal has the potential to offer “a remarkable boost” to efforts to provide educational and economic opportunities for all.
“Well-designed preschool education programs could close the entire achievement gap between children from low- and high-income families at school entry and as much as half the gap permanently,” Barnett said.
After Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, the president is scheduled to travel to North Carolina, Georgia and Chicago to amplify some of the policies he lays out Tuesday. A White House official, briefing reporters in advance of the State of the Union speech, declined to “give away the secret” of any new education policy.
Details of Obama’s Thursday visit haven’t been released, but he’s expected to visit pre-kindergarten students at College Heights and swing by the Decatur Recreation Center. Courtney Burnett, the Decatur school system’s legislative liaison, said employees are scurrying to prepare for Obama’s arrival. “Everyone is very excited. This is a big honor for us,” she said. “It’s the first time we can recall a visit to a Decatur school by a president.”
State Sen. Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican and former chairman of the Senate education committee, said he’s optimistic that Obama’s proposal will mean significant changes to the early-childhood education system. “I firmly believe that early learning is critical for long-term success and believe investment in this initiative by the feds and states makes sense,” Millar said. “The president got this one right.”
Georgia initially opened pre-k to children from low-income families but quickly expanded admission to all 4-year-olds regardless of family income. But in recent years, legislators and Gov. Nathan Deal made unpopular changes to the program amid soaring enrollment and flagging lottery earnings.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog