I must address the recent article in the November 22 issue of the Reader titled “Reform or Rehash?” by Ben Joravsky. The article focused on the Chicago Public Schools’ recent reform efforts, including its plans to expand preschool programs. The story contained a number of inaccuracies, and I’d like to set the record straight.

The article erroneously reported that Paul Vallas, CPS chief executive officer, planned to open 300 new preschool programs but later reduced the number to 125. With the release of our 1996-’97 budget we announced plans to expand early childhood programs with an additional 300 classrooms over a three-year period. We never stated that all 300 classrooms would be operating at the beginning of the school year.

With this expansion of our program, we will be able to serve another 5,100 three- and four-year-olds, bringing the total number of children in preschool programs to 17,100. An additional $10 million was allocated in the 1996-’97 budget to support such programs.

The enhancement of our prekindergarten program is critical to the academic success of preschool children. Many young children begin their education lagging behind their peers, with minimum language skills and knowledge of their colors, numbers, addresses, or full names. We are certainly encouraged by the fact that an additional 5,100 new three- and four-year-olds will be able to reap the educational benefits of our expanded early childhood programs.

The article indicates that as of mid-October only 60 classrooms were operating. In fact, over 50 new classrooms had already opened in the spring of 1996. Another 133 classrooms are currently in operation. The majority of those classrooms were fully operational in mid-October, contrary to the article’s misstatement. The expansion of the early childhood program is well ahead of schedule.

The CPS also is offering a comprehensive parent training component to ensure the proper development of children from birth to school age. Parents as Teachers First (PATF) is an innovative home-based program that coordinates home, school, and community programs to provide learning activities for children ages three to five.

The program is designed to foster and nurture child development in language, cognitive intelligence, and social skills. About 300 parents are receiving training to tutor children and mentor other parents. We expect to serve at least 10,000 children.

What’s missing from the Reader article is the fact that we are providing quality educational programs to preschool children to better equip them with the necessary skills to enter kindergarten on firm academic ground.

It’s ironic that Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) would choose to attack our efforts to revamp our preschool program in the press, since one of its members sits on the Early Childhood Program Task Force, which is designed to address any issues regarding preschool programs and make recommendations for improvement. None of the issues highlighted in your article has been raised to task force members. It’s another example of PURE’s desire to attack the system with purely selfish motives instead of working collaboratively with us for the betterment of our students.

Lula Ford

School Leadership Development Officer

Chicago Public Schools

Ben Joravsky replies:

One of the central office’s stated goals in its “Children First Education Plan” (published last winter) is to “devise [a] plan to open a possible 300 additional State Prekindergarten/extended-day kindergarten classrooms in September 1996.”

I never wrote that “as of mid-October only 60 classrooms were operating.” I wrote that only 60 of the 125 new classes were operating in October because the central office hadn’t delivered the necessary desks, chairs, and other furniture.

It’s true there are no central office staffers quoted in my story. But that’s because neither Vallas nor his press aide returned my calls for comment.