MANOR, Texas (KXAN) — A Travis County school district opens its new pre-K center this weekend, consolidating all 3- and 4-year-old classes at a single school.
Manor ISD spent the summer transforming the Manor Elementary building into the Manor Elementary Early Learning Center. Crews painted hallways, added cameras and other security measures and added several labs for young students, including a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) lab and music and art rooms.
“This learning center will give them the opportunity to explore,” said Manor ISD superintendent Dr. Royce Avery.
The center will also ensure that all kids are getting the same education throughout the district, no matter where they live.
Until now, teachers had access to different resources depending on where they taught, pre-K teacher Samantha Garza said, from technology to the expertise of colleagues. Putting everyone in one building will allow educators to share everything with students and among themselves.
“I think it’s going to be a bunch of relevant learning opportunities for us as a staff to just get better and to keep growing,” Garza said.
She spent Thursday split between setting up her brand new classroom and in training sessions for the new school year, which starts in Manor on Thursday, Aug. 15. Garza is excited for the first day, both to meet her new students and to start this new pre-K experiment.
“I think that this is going to be the best place for us to be,” she said.
The center represents a major shift in how the district educates its youngest students. Instead of teaching a few pre-K classes at individual campuses, as is the norm among school districts, administrators plan to shuttle kids to the early learning center every day.
Parents can still drop their kids off at their home elementary schools and the district will bus them to and from the center. Using a system developed by the company SMART Tag, students will scan a pass as they get on an off the bus; parents can track where the bus is and get alerts for pickups.
Other local districts, including Eanes ISD and Lake Travis ISD, use similar technology on their buses.
Nichole Aguirre, the district’s director of early childhood, is nervous but ready to open the space to students. “I think that anyone would be nervous when you’re opening a new school,” she said.
The new concept will be good for young students, she believes, because it will give them a place where they can be themselves all the time.
“At a typical elementary campus, there’s testing windows,” Aguirre said. “There’s STAAR, and for pre-K, a lot of the work that we do has to stop and is typically shut down in those testing windows. And so now, we can allow young children to truly just be themselves all day. They can dance, they can sing, and there’s no reason that we have to walk the hallways silently.”
The school has capacity for about 700 3- and 4-year-olds, and the district expects around 600 to sign up this year. There’s room to expand the campus if necessary as more families move to Manor.
Manor’s school board approved a bond proposal this week to respond to expected growth in the coming years. The $280 million proposition would include money for a new middle school and a new elementary school, along with classroom expansions at other campuses.
In proposing the bond, which the district says will come with no tax rate increase, Manor ISD said it expects an additional 2,780 students to enroll over the next five years. Voters will take up the proposition this fall.
Avery, the superintendent, will likely not be with the district to see that growth. He resigned his post this summer, and unless something changes in the coming months, his contract will end without an extension in June 2020.
Still, he’s proud of the administration’s work to get the pre-K center online just a few months after proposing the idea to Manor families, and he’s confident the space will impact the district’s youngest learners.
“As long as we can do that and we can pass the torch, that’s what we do,” he said.
The district will celebrate the grand opening of the new space with a ribbon cutting on Saturday at 10 a.m.