Construction workers hurried up and down the halls this week, carrying drills and popping in and out of classrooms. They are on a deadline of the year to finish up the final two Pre-K 4 SA centers in the program.
The East and West education centers are expected to welcome 350 students each this year. In all, the four education centers -- two of which opened last year on the north and south sides of town -- will greet 1,500 students.
The fresh paint will barely be dry before Janice Hammonds, the director of the East center, will say hello to her students. Licensing, the finishing touches on the playground, and teachers unpacking their classrooms are all in the works 11 days before opening.
Hammonds has opened up two early education centers previously; both in Austin. But they were district-run programs.
She said she believes the city-run program will offer a lot more freedom in education young minds.
"I think in working with the school system, you pretty much have your guidelines and procedures," she said. "Here at Pre-K 4 SA the big difference that I see is that teachers will really have the opportunity to teach from where the children are without being stifled with curriculum that was just handed to them."
Across town, at the West education center near the San Antonio Food Bank, master teacher Leticia Guadiana sorted through her classroom materials.
They are the newest supplies she's ever worked with in her more than 20-year career, she said. The smell of the classroom and materials, still in plastic wrap and boxes, is intoxicating to teachers like Guadiana.
Among the blocks and multi-cultural figures is an unusually-shaped green table in the center of the room.
"Oh this, this is our sand and water table," said the excited teacher. "But it can also be used to grow, say beans, so the children can see the roots. We can put sand in there."
Center Director Christina Reck-Guerra chimed in. She said children can also touch beads and develop social skills, or they could count and use the table as math. Although the table could be interpreted in a variety of ways, any one answer could be right. Reck-Guerra made the observation that the table looked like a person, with a circle at the top for a head, and an indented cut-out for the rest of the body for the arms.
"I would say that my favorite part is it is all about the child," said Reck-Guerra.
The West Side center looks identical to the South center. It's got a classic school house shape on the outside, similar to the original Pre-K 4 SA logo.
But there were adjustments made to the building. One example is that the hallways are narrower than the South center so the classrooms could be made bigger.
"They improved some of the storage space," Reck-Guerra said. "They adjusted the family room, they made separate offices for our family specialists so they have privacy when meeting with families."
Reck-Guerra said she has about 320 students registered out of the center's 350 student capacity.
A preliminary assessment released showed that more than 90% of students during the first year of Pre-K 4 SA met certain standards. But the Pre-K 4 SA board is challenging staff to see what changes can be made this year to increase success rates.
Reck-Guerra recognizes that tweaks may have to be made.
"Every year it's going to be different," she said. "You're going to have a different group of kids who come with different skills and knowledge so you have to adjust all the time. That's the nature of early childhood education and really, education in general."
An analysis by Edvance Research will be presented to the Pre-K 4 SA board of directors in September to show the results of teacher and student interviews and how much progress was made in the classroom.