An early childhood education center that will be part of an innovative national network of preschools is under construction in western Massachusetts.
A $14 million state-of-the-art preschool is being developed by the Educare Learning Network in Springfield’s Old Hill neighborhood – one of the poorest urban areas in the country.
It is an ideal location because the goal of Educare, according to executive director Cynthia Jackson, is to “level the playing field” by helping children living in poverty start kindergarten prepared to learn at the same pace as other children.
"Our schools serve as places of innovation and learning," said Jackson. "This is a learning lab. We don't have all the answers. We are learning together."
Among the innovations at Educare is the placement of teachers with the same children from the time they enroll as infants up to age 3. Parents are required to participate in school activities, home visitations, and regular parent-teacher conferences.
The pre-school program began in Chicago in 2000. There are now 23 Educare schools in 15 states. Educare Springfield will be the first in Massachusetts.
"We know the work you will do here in Springfield, Massachusetts will inspire other communities across the country to do what is best and right for our young children and families," said Jackson.
She spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday that was attended by close to 100 local and state officials, advocates for early childhood education, community leaders, and benefactors.
Tom Weber, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education, said despite the success the state has seen with rising test scores and graduation rates in the last 25 years, it still has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country.
" We have to take risks," he said. "It is worth taking risks. If the solutions were obvious to us, we would have solved these problems already, so we have to be daring."
Educare Springfield will be operated by Head Start. Janis Santos, executive director of the local Head Start program said its one of the most exciting projects in her 45-year career in early education.
"It is just an incredible exciting opportunity here in Springfield and in the state of Massachusetts for our children and families," said Santos.
The new preschool is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019 with an enrollment of 141 children.
The effort to bring an Educare school to Springfield was spearheaded by the Davis Foundation which put up some of the initial funding and raised money from several sources including $9 million from an anonymous donor. In addition to the money to build the school, $7 million has been raised for an endowment to support operations.
Springfield College donated the land for the school.
Massachusetts put $1 million towards the construction of the school, and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito Monday announced a $1 million award from the MassWorks program to build public infrastructure to support the new school.
"This is the way we do business in this Commonwealth," said Polito. "We work together. We find collaborations and common ground and find the ability to get to 'Yes'."
Polito was filling in for Gov. Charlie Baker, who was in Lawrence for a meeting on the recovery efforts after last week’s gas explosions and fires.
The area where the new school is under construction was heavily damaged by a tornado seven years ago.