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PRE4CLE salutes its pioneers

When PRE4CLE began building its network of high-quality preschool providers 14 months ago, leaders did not know how many would sign on.

The organization celebrated a strong initial response Tuesday, honoring 90 “early adopters” in a ceremony at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens.

The Cleveland Plan, a blueprint for education reform in the city, calls for making high-quality preschool as accessible as possible. PRE4CLE is making great strides toward that goal, said Marcia Egbert, who co-chaired a task force that planned the network.

 “It’s truly communitywide and getting to be community deep,” Egbert, a senior program officer for the George Gund Foundation, said before the ceremony. “Every segment of the city is represented.”

CMSD prekindergarten sites make up about two-thirds of the 90 locations. In all, the network serves 4,378 children in 226 classrooms, according to PRE4CLE.

District CEO Eric Gordon, who co-chaired the task force with Egbert, said organizers chose the floral setting of the Botanical Garden in University Circle as a sign of appreciation to providers who have joined the movement.

Gordon repeated his often-stated belief that education providers in Cleveland have to put aside concerns about who enrolls a child and worry first about the quality of instruction. He said research shows that money invested in high-quality preschool and kindergarten readiness is repaid many times over in academic, economic and community benefits.

“The best way to close the achievement gap is to never open it,” he told the group. “We don’t have the luxury of not opening it. We do have the capacity to address it head on when children are 3 and 4.”

PRE4CLE Director Katie Kelly said the network will launch a website to help families locate high-quality preschools. She said an enrollment campaign is scheduled to begin in July.

Kelly told the providers that the group also hopes to provide assistance with transportation and tuition where needed. CMSD preschools are free.

“We are working hard on breaking down those barriers so you can concentrate on what you do in the classroom,” she said.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro visited a PRE4CLE site last October, praising the community for acting on its own to strengthen early-childhood education.

Two months later, President Obama praised PRE4CLE at a White House summit on early-childhood education. As part of the summit, Gordon participated in a panel discussion on public investment leadership in early-childhood education.