Winter 2006 Newsletter

Paramount Unified Partners with NSBN to Provide Pre-K in Under-Served Neighborhoods

Michael BishopIn the city of Paramount, cooperation and collaboration have become a way of life, but this L.A. County city still faces many challenges. As one of 34 communities designated as an “area of greatest need” for preschool seats in the county by Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), Paramount is working towards the goal of 58 percent service delivery rate for the district’s four-year-olds, from the existing level of 17 percent. Paramount Unified School District is collaborating with NSBN to develop a long-term master plan for its preschool facilities and is working to develop temporary facilities in the short-term until the planning process for permanent ones can be completed. Michael Bishop is the Assistant Superintendent for Business Services and strong ally of NSBN.

The Paramount Unified School District is working with New Schools, Better Neighborhoods to identify and design additional pre-K seats for your school district.  Elaborate on the need for such seats and why collaboration efforts are productive for the district.

I think we all understand the need.  Preschool is a valuable resource for any pre-K student.  I’m not an educator, but I believe that the research supports ideas that a student’s preparation at the preschool level will help that student become a better achieving student as they accelerate through the grades K through 12.  Unfortunately, we don’t have preschool opportunities on all of our campuses.  We exist within a very high need, low service area and our work with NSBN, an organization uniquely focused on building pre-K seats in underserved neighborhoods, presents an opportunity for us to see if we can add capacity where capacity is needed.

As the one in charge of the facilities buildup for Paramount Unified, expand on the two pre-K projects that the district has identified and are collaborating with NSBN to plan.

Current projects are at Hollydale Elementary School and Alondra Elementary School.  Those are two sites that, prior to the contract with NSBN and LAUP, did not appear to be preschool opportunities. New Schools, Better Neighborhoods assisted us in identifying those schools as being within a LAUP designated underserved area and then getting our application submitted. 

So, this collaboration is an opportunity to provide preschool programming on two campuses where we saw no opportunity to develop prior to our work with NSBN and LAUP.

Paramount Unified is also engaged in updating its facilities master plan for the district.  Could you talk a little bit about this effort and how that plan takes early education into account?

The district currently is in the process of selecting and contracting with an architect to update the district’s current facilities master plan.  The current plan was started in 1993, completed the next year, and was the plan by which the district operated to get to where we are right now.  The primary goal at that time was housing over-capacity enrollment.  At this time we have different dynamics.  That over-enrollment has been resolved by two things: additional housing and a decline in enrollment, which has occurred throughout California. 

So, our goal in this round of master planning is to identify how best to use our campuses and how best to organize them to handle all of the educational responsibilities that we carry out.  That starts with preschool and ends with secondary education and includes everything in between.  NSBN, I should mention, has agreed to help support our efforts to include early education on more of our campuses.

How much demand is there for such preschool services in Paramount?

We’ve have 16 elementary sites and currently have preschool classes operating on six of them.  When we complete three additional locations, that will bring the number up to six.  That would lave, in terms of physical sites, nine schools that do not have any preschool opportunities in an areas with high needs. 

The district’s relationship with NSBN around preschool planning and development in Paramount was preceded by a working relationship with First Five L.A. and New Schools, Better Neighborhoods at the Los Cerrritos Elementary campus.  Talk a little bit about the status of that project.

The previous collaborative effort was centered on the Los Cerritos Elementary campus.  That’s a campus in a high needs area – the densest area that we serve – and it had two preschool classrooms funded by First Five L.A.  The goal of the project for the district to create more permanent housing for those preschool opportunities and, in that permanent housing, to also provide space that could house other community-based services that will serve the school population and the neighborhood in general and also to provide opportunities for expanded community and recreation space in an enclosed facility. The city of Paramount was also a planning partner, it wants to turn a utility right of way that border’s the school campus into a city park.  That effort is in progress.

Returning the two pre-K planning projects, what is a central lesson of these collaborative facility planning efforts for other school districts in L.A. county that have the same needs and demand for pre-K?  Is this an effort that LAUP should use as a model for other like working relationships?

Not knowing what all those other working relationships are, I can only speak to this one.  There is an opportunity to collaborate.  The collaboration should start early, as early as possible, and should be incorporated into one planning effort instead of multiple or bifurcated planning efforts.  That’s when it becomes much more difficult.  The hopeful result obviously is the ability to increase preschool programming opportunities. 

Lastly, Paramount Unified, like LAUSD, extends beyond the city boundaries of Paramount, and these two projects that you described lie outside the boundaries of the city.  How does that change, enhance, or make more difficult the building by the school district of these pre-K classrooms?

I don’t think it makes the process or the project more difficult.  It just involves collaborating with parties from multiple municipal jurisdictions.  Giving the turf issues that can occur between school districts and cities, the collaborating parties have to be creative and willing to look beyond prior differences to seize an opportunity or willing to accept the challenge of working together perhaps for the first time.

We’re a school district of over 17,000 students.  We serve portions of five municipalities - the entire city of Paramount, portions of South Gate, where we have one preschool project at Hollydale Elementary, portions of Bellflower, portions of Long Beach, where we have a proposed project at Collins Elementary, and portions of Lakewood.