Calling preschool "the civil rights issue of today," County Superintendent of Schools Randy Ward commended local early childhood educators and organizations for increasing the number high-quality preschool programs in the area.
Ward, who began his career in education as a preschool teacher in Boston in 1978, said, "Preschool is an equity issue, a social issue, as much as it is an education issue. As I learned in Oakland and Compton, we need to start providing for those children if we know they're not getting what they need at home."
Ward's remarks at the Blue Ribbon Coalition breakfast were well-received, and he was followed by several other local preschool leaders. The gathering at Marina Village was a showcase of outstanding local preschool efforts during the past year, which included implementation of a Preschool for All Demonstration project and the expansion of preschool services in San Marcos Unified School District.
The session also included several calls to action for future support of such programs, and a review of pending state legislation that would expand high-quality preschool opportunities.
Among the speakers were former state Deputy and Interim Secretary for Education Scott Himelstein, National School District Superintendent George Cameron, former state senator and assembly member Dede Alpert, Catherine Atkins, President of Preschool California, and First 5 Commissioner Charlene Tressler.
"As a First 5 Commissioner, it feels very good to me to actually see and hear about these programs in action," Tressler said. "I feel so strongly that the investment we make in the early years pay dividends in the later years."
The First 5 Commission, created in 1998 with voter passage of Prop. 10, is responsible for allocating funds generated by Prop. 10's tax on tobacco products. The commission has funded the five year $30 million San Diego County Preschool for All Demonstration Project, which has resulted in high-quality preschool programs in six local communities: Escondido, Lemon Grove, National City, San Ysidro, South Bay and Valley Center/Pauma.
Cameron, who has announced his retirement from the National School District after 35 years there, told the audience that the early childhood community will need to demonstrate the connection between high-quality preschool programs and academic achievement in K-12 schools if they expect to gain public support.