By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association
This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.
What is Durham PreK?
Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.
Why is pre-K important for young children?
Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.
We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)
That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.
County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.
Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.
Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)
The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.
CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.
Offering braided funding options
What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.
For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.
Durham PreK’s plan to expand
Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham. In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.
There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here.
If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!
 Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).  CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).  Teachstone research summary (2019)  Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.