CHICAGO (CBS) — At a time when Chicago is planning to close dozens of public schools, the city is also expanding its pre-kindergarten program.

In fact, thousands of new Pre-K seats will be available in August.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker spoke to Mayor Rahm Emanuel one-on-one about how the new Pre-K classes are going to be different.

Four-year-old Richard Cruz can spell his name, recite the alphabet, and count. It’s just a snippet of what he’s learning at Chicago Commons.

“He also knows how to write his name fully, he knows how to count up to 60, he knows how to write the numbers. He exceeds as well at everything. Socially, mentally, he’s on top of it, and he’s actually beginning to learn to read,” his mother Gloria Cruz said. “I think the center has a lot to do with it.”

Commons is a model for the kind of Pre-K programs the city plans to offer at more than 700 locations in the fall. Early learning programs aren’t new in Chicago, but for the first time centers like Commons were evaluated.

“This is making sure they have an education, so when they get to kindergarten, when they get to first grade, they can do their reading, they can do their letters, they can do their numbers, they can do their shapes, they can do their colors,” Emanuel said.

The city is spending $10 million to add 2,300 new Pre-K slots to the 42,000 that already exist, and every center is being listed on a new website, where programs will be ranked on a star system.

While most parents will qualify for free Pre-K classes, for the first time, those who can afford to pay something will be asked to contribute. And all parents must play a role.

The mayor said parental involvement is key in early childhood development.

“We can’t let parents off the hook from their responsibility. And that sometimes means making sure that they themselves are empowered [and] educated to what it means to be a nurturing parent,” he said.

Parents like Gloria said it’s not too much to ask.

“I think that the education starts at home, and it continues at whereever they attend – may it be a daycare facility, a public school, anywhere else — and I want them to succeed,” she said.

For parents who will be required to pay for Pre-K, the fee will be based on their family income, and the location they choose.

To find an early childhood learning center in your area, click here.

City officials estimated about 1,000 parents might be required to pay something.

Dorothy Tucker