By DR. NANCY COOGAN
Superintendent, Tukwila School District
Happy New Year! We are kicking off 2016 with some remarkable celebrations in the Tukwila School District: A huge (huge!) leap in graduation rates, Thorndyke Elementary’s School of Distinction Award (the state’s highest award for student growth), an incredible family engagement event for English Language Learners—and did I mention that Gov. Jay Inslee made his first official business of the New Year a visit to Foster High because “what’s happening at [Foster] is exactly what we need to have happen across the state of Washington?”
Looking ahead, we expect even more greatness for the rest of 2016! One of the most important upcoming events that will shape our future is the Feb. 9 election. The Tukwila School District has two levies and one bond measure on the ballot. (If you need any information, please visit our homepage, www.tukwila.wednet.edu, or call me at 206-901-8006.) The two levies will maintain critical school programs and provide classroom technology. The bond will fund repairs and maintenance of building infrastructure like roofs and heating/ventilation systems. It will also allow us to expand our schools – classrooms are already overcrowded – and we expect significant growth in the next decade.
In my column last month, I discussed how we will create more space at Foster High and Showalter Middle if the bond passes—with a new academic wing at each devoted to hands-on math, science, technology, and art labs. This month, I want to talk about our innovative plan to create more classroom space at elementary schools.
First, some context on the need. We have simply run out of room! At the beginning of the year, we almost had to place a class at Tukwila Elementary in a modified staff conference area. If we want to have smaller, appropriately sized student/teacher ratios, we need to expand. When the community bond committee came together to look for space solutions, members had three choices: Expand current elementary schools, build a new comprehensive elementary school, or invest in an early learning center. As it turns out, our current elementary campuses are not large enough for expansions. Between the new-construction options, the early learning center was projected to cost less AND provide some critical educational benefits—a real win/win.
We are calling the new facility the Birth to Five Center (the exact location will be determined if the bond passes, and we will be able to look for land centrally in the district). It will house all of the district’s preschool and kindergarten classes, hence moving those students out of their current schools and creating space there. Better yet, there will be many positive (fiscally responsible!) benefits to our K-12 educational program and the entire Tukwila community:
• We never want to turn down FREE preschool opportunities for our families, and currently we have to do that. The federal and state governments fund our preschool programs (Head Start and ECEAP, respectively) that support families in poverty. This year alone, we were offered at least two more free-to-us preschool classes—enough to support 40 children—which we had to decline because of lack of space. With a Birth to Five Center, we will be able to maximize those federal and state dollars to offer many more preschool opportunities.
• A school community gets significant return on its investment from early learning. One study from San Bernardino County in California shows that society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in Head Start or ECEAP-type programs. This includes increased earnings, employment and family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition, and special education.
• Research shows that 90 percent of brain development is completed by age 3 or 4. There is no time in life when the brain develops more rapidly. By building children’s brains in these earliest ages, we’re actually shaping the foundation for future learning. This is especially important for communities with high poverty because young children there are often not exposed to critical brain-building activities, like engaging in two-way communication. Through our early learning program, we make sure that children come to kindergarten ready to learn on an equal footing. Otherwise, they start at a deficit that may compound year by year until they are far behind their peers. Therefore, our entire school system, K-12, is strengthened by early learning programs.
• With a Birth to Five Center, we will have all of our early learning programs in one tailor-made facility, where we can be a beacon of best practices for our youngest learners. Teachers will be able to collaborate, resources can be shared, and schedules and training can be aligned to the specific needs of preschoolers and kindergartners
• Our Birth to Five Center will do more than just house preschool and kindergarten classes. While we have not developed our entire program yet, we know that family education will be a cornerstone. We will have resources and classes for parents, from womb through graduation. We will also outreach to home-based childcare providers to share best practices and resources for kindergarten preparation. We may also be able to offer childcare—we are exploring that option for our families and staff. Also, we will invite the community in! We hope that will include a reading-buddy partnership with the new senior housing center currently being planned as well as early-learning vocational classes at Foster High School. Now … how exciting is that?!!
Superintendent Nancy Coogan
Tukwila School Supt. Dr. Nancy Coogan can be reached at 206-901-8006 or at email@example.com