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6/16/2015 - Mayor, Superintendent, and United Way Launch Universal Pre-K Initiative in Bridgeport, Conn.

Bridgeport, Conn. (June 16, 2015) – Mayor Bill Finch, Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Fran Rabinowitz, and the United Way launched a universal pre-K initiative today aimed at ensuring every kid in Bridgeport is prepared to enter kindergarten.

“I have four boys who all went through pre-K,” said Mayor Bill Finch. “Seeing is believing. You see your child growing and flourishing in ways that would never happen if they weren’t in pre-school. That’s why we’re committed to making sure every kid in Bridgeport has access to quality early childhood education.”

“We all know what the research tells us: If kids aren’t reading at the level they should be by third grade, they’re less likely to graduate.  That is why early childhood education is so essential if we want to prepare our kids for 21st century jobs,” Mayor Finch added.

The Mayor and Superintendent announced the initiative at the annual meeting of the Bridgeport Alliance for Young Children.

After adding 366 new slots in the last year, more than 90 percent of three and four year olds have access to pre-K education in Bridgeport. Yet only two-thirds of the kids attend pre-K programs, said Superintendent Rabinowitz.

“Working together, with everyone in this room and the community, I know we will increase that number,” she said.

In her year as superintendent, Rabinowitz said, she has learned that the value of partnerships is “immeasurable” and what can be accomplished working with the community “moving all of us toward a common goal.”

“I’m very honored and pleased to be working with the mayor, and he has the vision for this universal pre-school. Working with him we are going to be able to make it happen,” she said

BAYC is a collaboration with the city, Bridgeport Public Schools and the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County comprised of parents, providers and more than 150 active volunteers.

BAYC works with families and the greater community to ensure access to quality early care, as well as education and health services for all children, birth to age eight.

Using the definition that other major cities use, Bridgeport already has achieved universal pre-K, Mayor Finch noted.

Seattle, for example, defines Universal pre-K as offering free or reduced cost slots to 80 percent of all three and four years olds. San Francisco set a goal of offering pre-K for free or at a reduced cost to 75 percent of all four year olds.

“Those are ambitious goals, but I think in Bridgeport we can do even better,” Mayor Finch said. “That is why we are committed  to making sure every kid in Bridgeport has access to quality pre-K  education so they can hit the ground running when they start kindergarten.”

Deputy Mayor for Strategic Initiatives for the City of New York, Richard Buery, spoke at the meeting.

Like Mayor Finch, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an effort to provide universal pre-K to all New York City four year olds.

“When you all speak about pre-K, I know something wonderful is going to happen here,” Buery said at the meeting, which was held in Beacon Hall at Housatonic Community College.

A commitment to  pre-K, he said, is more than a commitment to education. It is a commitment to economic development, to equity, to supporting the workforce and a commitment to building a city that works for everyone.

“We’re building pre-K for all (in New York City) because we too want to build a city that works for everyone,” he said.

He said pre-K centers should be places of joy and learning and play. If you enter a center with 30 kids sitting in chairs facing forward, close it down because the operators “don’t know what they are doing,” he said to applause.

“The idea that play and learning are separate really reflects a misunderstanding of how a three- and four-year-old’s brain works.”

Buery said even skeptics agree about the importance of pre-K programs but some question whether any city can make it work.

“They just don’t believe in the ability of cities to do big things for their people. And that’s why this is so important because places like Bridgeport can do big things for their citizens. To do it, all we need is leadership, we need vision and we need partnerships, and of course these are things that the city has in spades.”

In the last year, Bridgeport received federal and state funding for 366 new pre-K seats. That brings the total of available slots nearly 4,000 across Bridgeport.

Said Mayor Finch: “We are forming a taskforce to create a universal pre-K definition specific to the Park City and to create a plan to make sure quality pre-K is accessible and affordable for all parents. We are off to a strong start.”