Pre-K 4 SA Becomes a CDA Gold Standard Recipient

A Pre-K 4 SA Staff Member welcomes young children to the facility

We are proud to announce that Pre-K 4 SA’s Professional Learning Department has been granted the prestigious CDA Gold Standard designation.

Professional Learning provides educators with high-quality support and credentialing programs so they can in turn provide a high-quality early education. This nationally recognized CDA designation serves as validation of the work Pre-K 4 SA does to deliver on the promise of creating positive systemic change.

“I was proud to have our CDA program nationally recognized for its high-quality,” said Kristina Herrera, Pre-K 4 SA assistant director of professional learning. “We are motivated to increase the quality of all early childhood programs throughout San Antonio, and the CDA is one way we are building staff qualifications in child care centers and programs.”

The CDA Gold Standard is part of the Council for Professional Recognition early childhood education effort to help CDA students find the high-quality training and student services they need in preparation for the CDA exam and a career as an early childhood educator. Having a CDA doesn’t just help educators bring out the best in children. Its purpose is to expand the knowledge base, experience, and quality of early childhood educators and is meant to be a stepping stone on the path of career advancement in education.

Earning the CDA Gold Standard is recognition that Pre-K 4 SA successfully demonstrates that its early childhood education training is based on the Council’s three industry-leading principles of 1) Alignment with the CDA formal education coursework found in the CDA’s Eight Subject areas, 2) Sound business policies and practices, and 3) Quality student services that meet their educational and professional needs.

In addition to offering high-quality training, Pre-K 4 SA demonstrates evidence that they serve the CDA student community with excellence, which includes professional development that prepares students for successful completion of their training program.

Pre-K 4 SA’s CDA credentialing program is dedicated to working with all of its participants to ensure everyone is prepared to pass the CDA exam and begin a successful career in high-quality early education. Therefore, Pre-K 4 SA provides the following for all participants:

  • Training-120 hours of professional education with a Professional Learning Specialist;
  • Materials-Use of the CDA textbooks while enrolled in the program;
  • Support- Assistance with Professional Portfolio creation, selection of a Professional Development Specialist, and test/observation registration.

Recently reauthorized Pre-K 4 SA is determined to strengthen San Antonio’s early learning infrastructure to create an equitable, affordable, high-quality early learning and care system for young children for the next eight years. With the CDA Gold Standard program, the Pre-K 4 SA Professional Learning team will continue increasing the number of qualified early learning educators throughout San Antonio.

To find out more about Pre-K 4 SA CDA program and its requirements, you can join KickUp to gain access and register for the CDA sessions, click here. Or, reach out to if you have additional questions.

Pre-K 4 SA Continues to Change the Early Childhood Education Landscape in San Antonio

Children hold up signs that say "I'm a Student," "Future Student," or "Past Student"

I was thrilled to see more than 1,400 alumni families and children join us recently for our 2nd Annual Pre-K 4 SA Family Reunion!

Our Pre-K 4 SA staff worked their magic to make this event possible. Because of the pandemic, the team had to transform the event from a large in-person gathering to a drive-thru experience. Using strategy and imagination, the team turned Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium parking lot into a celebratory fair-like parade full of activities, books and Pre-K 4 SA giveaways, and food for everyone in attendance. The children’s faces beamed as they interacted with their teachers and played games from the safety of their cars. After so many months of limited interaction, I know all of us were glad to enjoy a beautiful fall day in San Antonio.

Seeing the children’s gleaming smiles during the Family Reunion as they passed by reminded me of the very first time I visited a Pre-K 4 SA Education Center. As I drove up to the building, I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the outside, it looked like an ordinary early learning center. Everything changed when I stepped inside. From the moment I entered the building, I was completely blown away. I’ve had a long career in education, and seen schools across the world, but nothing like Pre-K 4 SA. It was classroom after classroom, filled with joyful children and teachers engaged in playful learning and families who are strongly committed to their children’s education. Then I learned that there was not just one Pre-K 4 SA Education Center but four, and that this bold initiative included professional learning and grants for other programs across the city. I couldn’t believe it. It was at that moment that I decided I just had to be part of this program. Every day since, I have been grateful that I am.

Pre-K 4 SA is proud to be leading San Antonio’s effort to develop a world-class workforce through high-quality early childhood education for all children in San Antonio. After the first eight years, Pre-K 4 SA had proven that a city can transform its early learning landscape through a comprehensive approach that includes:

  • Education Centers
  • Professional Learning
  • Competitive Grants
  • Family Engagement

Education Centers

Pre-K 4 SA’s four model education centers serve as demonstrations of what is possible when young children have access to highly skilled teachers and an evidenced-based curriculum, as demonstrated in the 2019 community impact study. San Antonio serves as a model in municipal early childhood programs and Pre-K 4 SA regularly hosts delegations from across the country and the world. In fact, Pre-K 4 SA has provided tours and facilitated detailed conversations with more than 25 municipalities, 3 international entities, and the US Department of the Army.

With research to demonstrate the success of Pre-K 4 SA’s approach, Pre-K 4 SA is supporting other programs to replicate our proven practices. We launched our first replication site in August 2019 at Gardendale Elementary School in Edgewood ISD.  The Gardendale Early Learning Program powered by Pre-K 4 SA is creating greater capacity for high-quality early childhood education in San Antonio. Working side-by-side, Pre-K 4 SA and Edgewood are creating a model Pre-K through 2nd grade early learning program.

Professional Learning

Pre-K 4 SA believes that every child deserves high-quality early education. Pre-K 4 SA’s comprehensive approach includes educating 2,000 4-year-olds annually, providing over 10,000 hours of professional learning for educators, and developing parents as educational advocates. The Pre-K 4 SA Professional Learning division offers free, best-in-class training to any early learning educator in San Antonio serving children birth through third grade. Our comprehensive approach includes workshops, seminars, network events, and job-embedded coaching.

Pre-K 4 SA hosts in-service training for roughly 3,000 teachers, school principals and district administrators, early education leaders, and community providers annually. Through Pre-K 4 SA’s comprehensive Professional Learning Program, the number of highly skilled PK-3rd grade early childhood educators across San Antonio measurably increases each year.

Competitive Grants

Pre-K 4 SA provides over $4.2 million in grants annually to early learning programs across the city, benefitting all of San Antonio’s young children and their families. Pre-K 4 SA provides training and resources to early education teachers throughout our city, and supports and enhances other pre-kindergarten programs as well.

Pre-K 4 SA’s Grants program adds teachers, training and technology to San Antonio’s early childhood landscape annually. The funds create more access to high-quality curriculum for San Antonio’s 4-year-olds in public, parochial and child development centers.

Family Engagement

At Pre-K 4 SA, we believe stronger families make a stronger educational landscape. We believe that by supporting the entire family helps children build a successful learning foundation.  Our Family Engagement Team collaborates closely with teachers, administrators, and staff to encourage educational potential in the home, engage families in school leadership, and build on each family’s unique strengths and abilities.

Most recently, Pre-K 4 SA coordinated a partnership with Vooks, the leading streaming service for children’s books, to provide a free, one-year subscription of Vooks to children and early learning teachers across Bexar County. Made possible by a contribution from Charles Butt, Pre-K 4 SA and its partners will tackle the challenge of limited book access for young children by putting the Vooks library of animated storybooks and specially designed learning guides in the hands of early learning educators and families with a 4- to 6-year-old child.

In Bexar County, where three in five children are economically disadvantaged and more than 30% are not reading on grade level by third grade, the need for early access to books is tremendous. Reading on level by third grade is a critical indicator of future academic success. Children who have access to books at home are much more likely to reach this important milestone. The Vooks platform brings books to life in a kid-safe environment.  As part of this partnership, Pre-K 4 SA facilitated additional partnerships with the San Antonio Public Library Foundation (SAPLF) and BiblioTech, Bexar County’s all-digital public library, to extend the distribution of the subscription program and access to Wi-Fi to families across Bexar County. BiblioTech will allow families to check out personal hotspots for home access to Vooks.

Through Pre-K 4 SA’s first eight years since its inception, we have provided a high-quality education model that empowers our children at such a critical age for academic and even life success.

By 2021, Pre-K 4 SA will have impacted more than 452,161 four-year-olds within the San Antonio community.  Pre-K 4 SA’s bold initiative is changing the landscape by developing a more productive workforce, healthier and more engaged families, less poverty, and civic-minded young adults to take San Antonio into the future. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this incredible work and together we can continue providing young children with a high-quality education for a brighter future.

For more information on how Pre-K 4 SA is changing the landscape, click the following link:

Written by: Sarah Baray, Pre-K 4 SA CEO

A Grants Program Changing the Landscape in Early Childhood Education

Pre-K 4 SA Staff member and a child paint a rock outside

Since Pre-K 4 SA’s inception, the program set out to make an impact in early childhood education by also creating a comprehensive grants program.

Each year, Pre-K 4 SA provides $4.2 million in grants to add teachers, training, and technology to San Antonio’s early childhood landscape. These funds create more access to a high-quality curriculum for San Antonio’s 4-year-olds via public, parochial and child development centers.

Harlandale ISD is one of several school districts in San Antonio that has benefited tremendously from Pre-K 4 SA’s resourceful grants program. In 2016, HISD opted to partner with Pre-K 4 SA, making early childhood education a priority for the district. As a result, both administrators and teachers receive continuous professional learning in early childhood education, and outdoor learning classrooms are under construction.

There are a total of 13 pre-kindergarten classrooms throughout the Harlandale district, which currently has 65 pre-kindergarten teachers who teach 3- and 4-year-olds. In total, the district provides an early education to approximately 1,025 children. It also has a partnership with Avance, a federally funded program, which assists in instructing 438 of the children from within the district.

Diana Wagner, an early childhood coordinator at HISD and a former early childhood education principal, appreciates Pre-K 4 SA for providing an ongoing series of professional learning, not only for teachers, but also for school administrators. Wagner believes instructing administrators is an important factor for early childhood educators to understand and collaborate to provide high-quality education.

“I’m a former principal of 10 years and an early childhood major. I have learned a great deal of how (early childhood education) has progressed since I’ve been in college,” said Wagner. “I believe ongoing education (in early childhood education) is essential. I think that without having the administrators present for that continuum of learning between pre-k and kindergarten, there will continue to be a disconnection.”

Wagner is currently attending two of Pre-K 4 SA’s professional learning series, one for teachers and the other one for administrators. She has gained a better understanding and knowledge base by attending both. The teachers’ series has taught her to become a better classroom observer and able to understand more of the educator’s needs. As an administrator, she can have conversations with principals and explain what the needs are within the classrooms throughout the school district. This has been advantageous since these series programs are helping administrators and teachers to be more cognizant of how to help children build a strong academic foundation.

Another area that Pre-K 4 SA’s grants are assisting HISD is with the creation of new outdoor learning environments. There are currently three outdoor learning classrooms under construction at Gillette, Rayburn and Collier Elementary schools. Outdoor learning is important because it gives children the time to interact with nature while teachers encourage their sense of wonder and curiosity. Teachers also serve as partners in play, observe children, and facilitate individual learning while addressing all aspects of the Texas Pre-Kindergarten Guidelines. These new outdoor learning environments will not be limited to pre-kinder and kinder students, but will serve other elementary students on these campuses. Students within HISD will have more tools and resources to improve physical activity, gross motor development, attention spans, executive function, cognitive abilities and environmental awareness.

Pre-K 4 SA also recognizes parents as an essential factor for their children’s success. Pre-K 4 SA partners with families and the community to provide diverse, fun, and educational opportunities that encourage active engagement in a child’s academic, social and emotional, health and nutritional needs.

HISD also uses Pre-K 4 SA grants funding to help parents and families understand the importance of staying actively engaged in their child’s education. Wagner also realizes that in the district there are many 3- and 4-year-olds who are not being enrolled. With a focus on parents, the district plans to create more community outreach opportunities to educate families about the importance of early childhood education.

Wagner is delighted to see that the district she works for chose to submit a proposal to become an active grant recipient of Pre-K 4 SA’s grants program. In less than three years, she has seen how impactful this program has become in HISD. She has noticed the positive ripple effect from Pre-K 4 SA’s professional learning and grants programs occurring throughout the district.

“This program helps administrators become proactive instead of reactive. It allows staff, administration, teachers and parents to be unified and on the same page,” said Wagner. “I love partnering with Pre-K 4 SA because the initiative is about 4-year-olds and that is my passion. I’m just glad to be a part of the whole thing.”

Early Learning Leadership Matters in San Antonio

Pre-K 4 SA Workshop

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, districts across San Antonio welcomed more pre-kindergarten children into their elementary schools than ever before.

Districts expanded from half-day to full-day programming for 10,487 children, which is a 9% increase over the previous year. The expansion of district pre-k programs came as a result of the passage of House Bill 3 (HB3) on June 11, 2019.

The landmark legislation provides funding for full-day pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds who meet one of the longstanding eligibility requirements established by the state. Although HB 3 does not increase the number of children eligible for pre-k, it is an important step forward for early learning in Texas.

Although the growing number of pre-kindergarten classrooms is a win, the impressive outcomes that early education promises are only possible when programs are high-quality. School and program leaders are essential to establishing the conditions necessary to make this kind of quality possible. Research shows principals alone can account for 25% of a school’s impact on student learning and have the second largest in-school impact on student achievement after teachers.

In a report by New America, principals in a focus group said the most important part of their job is helping teachers provide high-quality instruction. However, many principals had no experience in early childhood education and they shed light on how little their preparation programs equip them to be instructional leaders for the early grades.

For the past two years, Pre-K 4 SA has partnered with the New Teacher Center (NTC) to launch the first Early Learning Leadership Program (ELLP) in San Antonio. Program participants are comprised of principals, district leaders and instructional coaches across seven districts (Edgewood ISD, Northside ISD, Northeast ISD, Harlandale ISD, Southwest ISD, East Central ISD, San Antonio ISD) and the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The program has reached 150 school and program leaders which have impacted more than 3,500 children within our city.

The program is offered through two options: a nine-hour overview course and a nine-month intensive course, with most leaders opting into the longer intensive program.

“The Early Learning Leadership Program provides a unique opportunity for principals to focus on early childhood through professional learning and collaboration with other principals,” said Julia Schneider, director of early childhood in Northeast Independent School District. “It is changing the way our principals evaluate environments and instruction in their early childhood classrooms.”

The program includes six three-hour seminars, which focus on brain development, executive function, growth milestones and teaching practices that encourage language development and emerging math skills. It also includes “walk and talks” led by the ELLP team with principals to tour the program’s pre-k and kindergarten classrooms and to put to practice the knowledge participants are receiving through the seminars. ELLP team members also assist in answering any questions and overcoming challenges.

In addition, two observational walks with small groups of principals also take place. During these observations, a focus on an early learning problem of practice is posed by the group to guide the conversations. The group might look at the language teachers are using with children or how classroom environments are arranged.

One key element of the interactive sessions is demystifying concepts like “developmentally appropriate practice” and “playing to learn” by engaging principals in play! Betsy Fox, senior director of early learning partnerships at NTC, who leads the ELLP initiative with Pre-K 4 SA said, “Principals don’t often see the connection of play to learning. It’s about shifting the beliefs about how young children learn best.”

Whether participants are building brain architecture from pipe cleaners, or towers with straws and play dough, they are learning about how young children develop foundational academic, social-emotional and executive function skills. It’s important to work together and share knowledge about high-quality early childhood education in order to help San Antonio’s youngest learners.

Written by: Larissa Wilkinson, director of Professional Learning and Innovation

Building High-Quality Education One Child Development Center at a Time

4-star TRS provider

For some parents, the search for a Child Development Center (CDC) begins shortly after they learn they are expecting. Parents want to give their children the best start in life and that includes providing their children with the best early childhood education available. However, there are factors which can impede them from finding a high-quality center for their child.

The State of Texas has implemented a quality improvement rating system for CDCs, the Texas Rising Star (TRS). According to the TRS website, this program is “a voluntary, quality-based child care rating system of child care providers participating in the Texas Workforce Commission’s subsidized child care program.”

TRS is a quality rating tool which includes three levels of quality: 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star, with 4-stars being the highest level of TRS certification. CDCs are limited within our city, and many have long waitlists; therefore, parents often opt for a closer, uncertified center for the first years of their child’s life.

Currently, 89% of CDCs are not certified in San Antonio. Family-owned, corporate, and faith-based CDCs need support to provide a high-quality education that each child deserves.

The minimum benchmark for child care centers is through the Texas Health and Human Services Minimum Standards for Child Care Centers.

“Centers need to adhere to all minimum licensing standards,” said Janet Henry, professional learning specialist with Pre-K 4 SA. “However, they often have too many deficiencies or critical deficiencies which prevent them from becoming TRS certified.”

In 2016, Pre-K 4 SA saw the need to support CDCs in San Antonio to increase the quality of the centers. Pre-K 4 SA responded by creating a grants program that included CDCs. In its first year, 13 centers were chosen to receive funding through a competitive grants program after responding to a request for proposal for the academic years of 2016-18. The second group of nine centers was recently chosen to receive funding for the 2019-21 academic years, with a new requirement that the centers must be nationally accredited or TRS certified.

In early 2019, Pre-K 4 SA also began a Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) Cohort, specifically targeting centers throughout the city that would like to become TRS certified. Directors attended monthly meetings to understand and apply the standards at their sites. Funding was provided to several of the centers to assist them in pursuing TRS certification. A new cohort of interested participants began in September 2019.

Northwood Presbyterian Day School is a participant and awardee of the CQI Cohort and Request for Proposals. After an intensive application and interview process, the center began receiving its grant in July 2018. Shortly after, Janet Henry became its professional learning mentor to start preparing the center for the TRS assessment.

Pre-K 4 SA determines the necessities of each center by using an internal High-Quality Impact Pyramid Tool. This pyramid is compared to a nutritional pyramid where the vital, high-quality, foundational practices are located at the bottom, and they are referred to as tiers. Tier 1 is Program Features and Staff Qualifications and starts allocating grant funds in this area. Tier 2 consists of Instructional Quality and Physical Learning Environments. Tier 3 involves Family Engagement and Outreach, and finally, Tier 4 brings Innovation.

As the centers progress, the High-Quality Impact Pyramid Tool allows them to be considered to receive assistance in the higher tiers, and gives them the opportunity to raise their center’s overall quality.

For the past year, Northwood Presbyterian Day School has made modifications and has developed new practices. Frog Street was adopted as the center’s formal curriculum. While the majority of the funds was used to remodel the school’s current playground into an outdoor learning classroom, the grant funds also made it possible to purchase furnishings, chairs, tables, manipulatives, and multilingual publications.

“Janet Henry was very open and receptive to the staff here at Northwood,” said Director of Northwood Presbyterian Day School, Rebecca Cranfill. “She was a very great mentor and leader who brought in a lot of new ideas and excitement. She also allowed us to give our feedback and to grow along in the process.”

The grant program requires administration, teachers and staff to attend 30 hours of best practices for early childhood over a span of one year. Cranfill recalls speaking with teachers after returning from their monthly trainings.

“Our teachers were enthused and ready to start implementing new practices in the classroom immediately,” added Cranfill.

After the long hours of hard work, Northwood Presbyterian Day School received a 4-star rating on June 20, 2019, following its initial TRS assessment.

“If any center in San Antonio has a true passion for children’s education or wants to build a high-quality center, the support provided by Pre-K 4 SA is unparalleled,” Cranfill said. “It was such a blessing for us. By receiving the grant, we were able to accomplish some of those things for which we previously didn’t have funding.”

Currently, Pre-K 4 SA is assisting over 20 centers throughout the city become nationally accredited or TRS certified, and is currently recruiting additional centers.