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How Gainesville City Schools are celebrating pre-K expansion
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Fair Street International Academy Pre-K students play a quick game of Simon Says Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, as they wait to go to the playground for recess. Demand for the Pre-K program at the school has caused Gainesville City Schools to expand it. - photo by Scott Rogers

With the Gainesville City School System expanding pre-kindergarten classes to all six of its elementary schools this academic year, there was something extra to celebrate during the annual Georgia Pre-K Week these past few days.

“Our transition to pre-K at each elementary school has been successful, academically and socially,” Gainesville Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said.

State and local leaders, including First Lady Sandra Deal and Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan, visited the school system’s six elementary schools to read to students — as did Williams.

“I was able to read to all 11 (pre-K) classes this week, and loved their eagerness to interact and learn,” he said.

The goal of Pre-K Week is to emphasize the importance of quality early childhood education by providing opportunities for leaders to engage with Pre-K classrooms, according to school officials.

There are currently 235 children enrolled in the school system’s pre-K program.

“What really impacts outcomes for children is exposure to quality early learning,” Donna Allen, Gainesville City Schools director of Pre-K services and parent and family engagement, said in a press release. “We are an L4GA (Literacy for Georgia) District, so we wanted to highlight the importance of literacy and learning; not just on one day, but each day during our week of celebration.”

Previously, pre-K was only offered at New Holland and Mundy Mill Academy.

The expansion of pre-K to all elementary schools this fall drove so much demand, for example, that Fair Street added a second class for students on a waiting list.

Each pre-K class at Fair Street can accommodate up to 22 students.

Teacher Heather Coates said she has 16 students in her Pre-K class, with three more on a waiting list.

“It’s been great,” she said of the expansion of pre-K to all schools and her own transition from New Holland Knowledge Academy. “People are so kind and helpful.”

Like Coates, Deana Sanders also came to Fair Street from New Holland. Both teachers joined Gwenell Brown, the new principal, in the transition.

Brown had served as assistant principal at New Holland for the last 10 years and attended Fair Street as a child. She replaced Will Campbell, who relocated to Rush City, Minn., to become the superintendent of the local school district there.

Sanders had also taught at Fair Street a few years back.

“So it’s kind of like coming back home,” she said.

Georgia Pre-K Week is coordinated by Voices for Georgia’s Children, a policy and advocacy non-profit organization.

“We want to provide an opportunity for more guest speakers to participate, which further strengthens our capacity with our local leaders and community partners,” Allen said.

For Williams, Georgia Pre-K Week highlights the school system’s mission to reach children at as early an age as possible and prepare them for academic success in the years to come.

“Early learning and developing relationships with 4- and 5-year-olds will help each school flourish as the pre-K program expands,” Williams said. “Our teachers and schools have done a great job acclimating to having these young learners.”