Richardson ISD kicks off implementation of full-day pre-K program

Richardson ISD began offering full-day pre-K to eligible students this school year.

Richardson ISD began offering full-day pre-K to eligible students this school year.

Image description
Image description
Image description
Richardson ISD is one step ahead of a state law requiring an expanded pre-K program. But there are still hurdles to clear in the journey to full compliance.

The district vowed to convert its existing half-day seats to full-day prior to the signing of House Bill 3 in June. Under that new law, all public school districts in Texas are now required to offer free, full-day pre-K to qualifying 3- and 4-year-olds, and the state is kicking in major dollars to ensure the program is a success.

“This is something that has been on RISD’s legislative agenda for several sessions now,” Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum said. “The fact that [the state has] provided this full-day funding will allow us to do great things for kids.”

Currently, a child qualifies for RISD’s program only if he or she meets certain language and income requirements. But district leaders say their goal is to make the program universal by 2025.

The first wave of RISD’s full-day program began in August. The district initially budgeted five years to fully convert all half-day pre-K seats to full-day, but HB 3 accelerated that deadline. RISD now plans to apply for a waiver to delay full implementation until school year 2021-22.

District officials face the challenge of finding enough space to serve eligible students. They estimate they will have to double the number of available classrooms and teachers—they currently have 56 of each as well as 64 coteachers.


Research shows students enrolled in pre-K are better poised for long-term academic and career success.

“We see this as an investment not just for that year—it is an investment in their future,” Branum said.

But half-day programs are proven to be less effective than full-day, Pre-K Program Director Katy Phinney said.

“Ultimately, we need more time with these kids to close that [achievement] gap,” she said.

According to the National Institute of Early Education Research, the efficacy of a longer program hinges on quality. In other words, educators must ensure curriculum is not just watered down to fill a six-hour period.

“If that is what happens, then there won’t be much in the way of gain,” said Steve Barnett, senior co-director and founder of the institute.

RISD already uses full-day curriculum that is trimmed for a half-day, so the extra time will allow teachers to strive not just for surface understanding but also depth and mastery, Branum said.

“If you don’t have to teach letters, you can spend a lot more time giving them a richer vocabulary; if you don’t have to teach numbers, you can spend a lot more time on the deeper concepts of math,” Barnett said.

Enrollment in pre-K has also proven to narrow academic achievement gaps typically seen among minority and Caucasian students. A study of Grand Prairie ISD’s early education program showed students of a minority race enrolled in full-day pre-K outperformed their peers in assessments that measure for kindergarten readiness.

Hispanic and black children comprise nearly 70% of students enrolled in RISD. At this early stage of implementation, the district has not yet measured pre-K success in terms of race and ethnicity, but it is confident its results will be consistent with similar programs in the region and nationwide, a district spokesperson said.

Kindergarten readiness is the first domino to fall in a long line of academic milestones, including reading at grade level by third grade.

“We know what [reading on grade level by third grade] can mean for a student’s dropout rate, graduation rate and career earning potential,” Branum said.

A study by RISD found that students who attend pre-K are almost four times more likely to read on grade level by third grade than those who did not.

The readiness factor is what drove Reyna Bernache to enroll her 5-year-old son, Eduardo, in RISD pre-K last year. Eduardo is now a thriving kindergartner, Bernache reports.

“I wanted him to be ready, and now he is ready,” she said.


Prior to HB 3, Texas was ranked top-10 in the nation in terms of pre-K enrollment. Barnett said this is due to the large number of qualifying students who live here.

But the state landed in the bottom 10 in terms of pre-K per-pupil state spending, according to the latest annual report from the National Institute of Early Education Research.

“Texas has been in the ‘standing still’ or ‘moving backwards’ category,” Barnett said. “[HB 3] is a big step forward.”

State funding for full-day pre-K in RISD totaled $4.5 million in Year 1, according to Chief Financial Officer David Pate. Districts are free to use the money however they see fit; RISD has chosen to invest it in staffing.

The district exceeds the state’s student-to-teacher ratio requirement of 22:1. In RISD, each pre-K class of 22 students has both a teacher and a co-teacher. Some of the co-teacher cost will be left to the district, Branum said.

“So it is not a complete break-even for us, but it has made it much easier,” she said. 


Now that state funding has allowed for full-day programming, pre-K enrollment will likely go up, Barnett said. That means securing space for future eligible students.

It is impossible to know how many eligible pre-K students live within district boundaries, Branum said. For a rough estimate, the district looks at kindergarten enrollment, she said.

Pre-K enrollment for school year 2019-20 totaled 1,604 students. Roughly 43% of those students are enrolled in a full-day program, according to Phinney.

Half of RISD elementary schools currently house half- or full-day pre-K programs. This year, the district converted Dobie Primary School into an early childhood learning center exclusively serving pre-K students.

The majority of RISD campuses do not have space for pre-K, Phinney said. Staff has begun the process of identifying buildings for leasing or repurposing.

“We are looking at every nook and cranny to find space,” she said.

Whether the district should aim for embedding pre-K in neighborhood schools or opening centralized early childhood learning centers is one of the uncertainties surrounding implementation of full-day programming. Branum said she predicts RISD will use a blended model.

There is no debate over the value of  pre-K, which is why the district intends to eventually open the program to all children—regardless of income. This model would likely involve a tiered tuition scale for non-qualifying families, Branum said.
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.


Here are the latest coronavirus updates for Collin County readers. (Community Impact staff)
19 additional cases of coronavirus reported by Collin County

Health officials reported 19 new cases of coronavirus in Collin County on May 28.

Richardson ISD is holding virtual summer school for qualifying students. (Courtesy Richardson ISD)
Richardson ISD opts for online summer school, offers credit recovery classes for high school students

RISD announced May 22 it would hold virtual summer school for qualifying students, despite statewide orders allowing districts to offer in-person classes.

Since Richardson ISD announced school closures in March, Network of Community Ministries has been providing weekend meal boxes to families in need. (Courtesy Network of Community Ministries)
Reliant Energy donates $100,000 to Richardson, Grapevine nonprofits on front lines of fight against COVID-19

Network of Community Ministries and GRACE are two of the four organizations receiving donations.

Normally crowded toll roads are experiencing a decline in the number of motorists, according to data from the North Texas Tollway Authority. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
North Texas Tollway Authority develops plan to mitigate unprecedented loss of revenue

Money-saving tactics include an indefinite hiring freeze and the delay of some projects, according to a spokesperson.

Richardson dentist uses latest technology, value-based care to give patients back their smiles

Meredith G. Davis took over an existing Richardson dental practice in 2017.

Outdoor venues in all Texas counties will be permitted to operate at up to 25% capacity starting May 31. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Spectators to be welcomed back to Texas outdoor sporting events May 31 at 25% of venue capacity

Venue owners must operate under guidelines that facilitate appropriate social distancing.

Tuesday Morning plans to close 230 of its 687 stores in a phased approach. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)
Development news and other top stories from this week in DFW

Read the most popular stories so far this week from Community Impact Newspaper's Dallas-Fort Worth coverage.

Each eligible child will receive $285 in benefits. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Some Texas students eligible for one-time federal benefit to aid with food purchases

Texas received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide more than $1 billion in pandemic food benefits.

Here is the latest coronavirus update from Collin County. (Community Impact staff)
Collin County reports 28 new cases of coronavirus

Collin County health officials reported 28 new cases of coronavirus May 27.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar spoke to members of the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce on May 27 about what the state's post-pandemic economic turnaround might look like. (Screenshot of May 27 virtual luncheon)
Texas comptroller predicts slow, steady economic turnaround post-pandemic

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said the state entered the era of the coronavirus in a healthy financial situation, which bodes well for the future as reopening continues, but that Texans are not out of the woods yet.

Nursing facilities across Texas will be able to apply for federal funds to purchase devices to connect residents to friends and family. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces $3.6 million project to connect nursing home residents to families

Gov. Greg Abbott announced May 27 that $3.6 million will be provided to nursing facilities to purchase tablets, webcams and headphones to connect residents with family members.

Strength and conditioning workout areas, such as this one at Berkner High School, are part of the new multipurpose activity centers that recently opened in Richardson ISD. (Courtesy The McShane Companies)
Richardson ISD considers June relaunch for sports workouts, will delay band practice until at least July

Public school districts across Texas will be allowed to relaunch strength-and-conditioning programs and band practices starting June 8, according to the University Interscholastic League.