WINDSOR TERRACE — The city’s Department of Education (DOE) has decided not to renew 105 “Pre-K for All” program applications for fall ’21 — including five programs in Catholic schools located throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn. The free, full-day “Pre-K for All” program has been one of the mayor’s signature initiatives since launching in 2014.
The affected Catholic schools who had reapplied for the 2021-2022 school year were St. Joseph Catholic Academy, Long Island City, St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy, Greenpoint, St. Catherine-St. Therese Catholic Academy, Flatbush, Sacred Heart Academy, Bayside, and Sacred Heart Academy, Glendale — which collectively have more than 250 contracted seats and employ 30 staff members.
The schools and the diocese formally appealed the decision in September 2020 and were told their appeals were being reviewed at the end of December. As of Jan. 15, the diocese still has not received any response from the city and is requesting a more thorough evaluation. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Chadzutko explained the DOE letters that notified the schools of the cancellation provided vague explanations as to why these selected programs were rejected. “It was noted that ‘stronger proposals were sent from other programs.’ However, this does not identify what measurable data was used,” Chadzutko said.
“Three of these programs had even been asked by the Department of Education to expand by adding an additional classroom as recently as August 2020 to accommodate new students,” Chadzutko wrote in a letter to Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza on Jan. 12. “It is difficult to understand how a program that has been asked to expand is suddenly no longer considered viable.”
Joanne Dreiss, assistant superintendent for Pre-K for All in the diocese, added, “We are concerned that these appeals decisions will not be made prior to the February opening of enrollment.”
Though it will continue to fight in the appeals process, Chadzutko said the diocese will begin to develop its own tuition-paying programs. “What it does mean on a positive note, given all the negativity that we’re facing, is we can teach religion in our pay-for programs,” he said noting that the city-run program does not teach religion as a class. “We believe we can really enhance some of our programs by making them more reflective of the educational needs of our four-year-olds.”
St. Joseph Catholic Academy Principal Luke Nawrocki said the “Pre-K for All” program has been a success within the school. St. Joseph has had as many as five classrooms in use but is currently serving dozens of children in three classrooms.
“The cancellation is devastating for us because we rely on the early childhood programs to feed into the academy,” Nawrocki said. “We had between 40 and 50 percent of the children enroll in our kindergarten through the years.” This is in line with the diocese’s findings that the typical retention rate between pre-k and kindergarten is between 45 and 65%.
Sacred Heart-Bayside’s program, which has had a waiting list for the past six years, encompasses two classes with 36 children currently learning under a hybrid model.
“Our ratings are excellent and parents really rely on this program — both in our school community and outside our school community. It is very much a part of our school, even though it is a city-run program,” said Alexandra Conlan, principal of Sacred Heart – Bayside. “Since they are our teachers, our aides, and sometimes our students, later on, this decision would be a great loss.”
St. Catherine-St. Therese Catholic Academy Principal Jeannette Charles was frustrated because her school’s program had received stellar reviews over the last five years. “Our site was used as a training site last year by DOE to train 40 teachers that were new to the pre-k program,” Charles said, “because the instructional coordinator termed my classroom a ‘model site.’”
“For them to turn around now and say our scores are not as high as the others in the area is very disheartening to hear.”
Charles added she remains committed to her school’s program and working on the appeals process. “We’re going to continue doing what we’ve always done — ensuring that our students receive a high-quality education while they’re here.”