From WSJ.com by Leslie Brody:
To get ready for more than 53,000 children starting free full-day preschool this fall, the woman in charge of New York City's ambitious pre-K expansion hopped on the J train one Friday morning to visit a small storefront in Queens where 30 squirmy 4-year-olds were playing—and learning.

When Sophia Pappas, head of the city's Office of Early Childhood Education, arrived at Bessie & Nora's Place, she peppered a teacher with questions about how the center used science books, fostered independence and tracked its students new vocabulary.

"Have you always used informational texts?" Ms. Pappas asked the teacher, Camille Hiralall.

Yes, along with fiction, Ms. Hiralall replied: "We want our children to be ready for college."

As Ms. Pappas scrutinized the children's writing and watched them jumping along with rhyming games, the visit offered a glimpse of her big goals and challenges: making sure preschools offer not only a safe place to play, but also real instruction and a solid foundation for learning. Expanding pre-K was a major campaign promise of Mayor Bill de Blasio, and there is enormous pressure to make it work.

Ms. Pappas, 32 years old, oversees a staff of 160 and a projected $640 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Her team is busy reviewing applications from hundreds of community-based centers like Bessie & Nora's that want contracts to teach children for six hours and 20 minutes a day, 180 days a year.

It is a daunting job, considering the tight deadlines, the raft of rules governing health, facilities and learning standards, and the difficulty of meeting demand.

The rapid rollout of such a massive program is bound to hit glitches, said Grover J. Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy.

"It's going to be rocky," he said. "It's going to be better in year three than year one."

Experts on early education stress that ensuring quality will be crucial if pre-K programs are to accomplish one of the main missions of the expansion—helping low-income children catch up to more advantaged peers.

Ms. Pappas is planning a five-day training in August for thousands of preschool teachers and hiring more coaches to give on-the-job training in classrooms. The city has forged a partnership with City University of New York to give scholarships to help 400 people get certified in early childhood education by September 2015.

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