Former school chief was advocate for youth

Tracy added quality programs for children

OBSERVER Photo Dr. James Tracy is praised for implementing programs to assist Dunkirk children before kindergarten.

When Dunkirk City School District moved to separate itself from Dr. James Tracy, the former superintendent on July 11, Dunkirk lost a strong advocate for its youngest citizens.

Dr. Tracy was only in the position for three years, but in that time — and under his leadership — high quality early childhood Pre-K programming has reached more than 230 Dunkirk children and families — children who will be attending Dunkirk schools in the coming decades — better prepared to be successful in school and beyond.

In his very first days as Dunkirk superintendent in the summer of 2016, Dr. Tracy attended the first Chautauqua County Pre-K Summer Institute, a collaboration of the Chautauqua County Early Childhood Community and Jamestown City Schools. Teachers and administrators attended this three-day event. Dr. Tracy gathered information and contacts to quickly move forward on getting Dunkirk’s proposal for New York State Grants for the Expanded Prekindergarten for 3-year-old students.

Dr. Tracy can be credited with bringing this funding to Dunkirk, initially to begin serving 3-year-olds and more recently to expand programming for 4-year-olds (to full-day sessions). Part of New York state’s Pre-Kindergarten is designed for districts to work with community based organizations. By collaborating with the Campus and Community Children’s Center and Chautauqua Opportunities, Inc. (Head Start and the Child Care Council), and by participation in QUALITYstarsNY, Dr. Tracy demonstrated his understanding of best practices for creating the best early education experiences for the Dunkirk community.

The Chautauqua County Association for the Education of Young Children has held Annual Conferences for over 30 years. In 2017 Dr. Tracy was asked to be the keynote presenter. His topic was “Early Childhood Education: The Game Changer for Public Education.”

In that presentation, he related his personal experiences with pre-K programs and early childhood education. A quality early education experience helps ensure an individual child’s success in school as well as the overall success of the school system. Access to early childhood education can create equity and help eliminate poverty over time. It is for the business community, a tremendous opportunity with an amazing return on investment.

The Dunkirk School District Expanded Pre-Kindergarten program is Dr. Tracy’s legacy. The Early Childhood Community recognizes this important contribution. I hope the rest of the community does, too.

Mira T. Berkley, Ph.D., is associate professor emeritus for Early Childhood Education at the State University of Fredonia.