Universal transitional kindergarten will be a game-changer

In summary

The possibility of offering transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds will fill a critical gap in equity in access to preschool education.

By Steven Kellner, Special for CalMatters

Steven Kellner is a former school principal who now works for California educational partners, a non-profit organization.

One Tuesday evening in May, third-grade teacher Clara Yanez and second-grade teacher Jackie Gonzalez stood in front of their school board and asked them to count the small plastic farm animals.

While not a typical agenda item for Buttonwillow Union Elementary School, this ‘collection count’ exercise was a way for these teachers to show board members the items. constitutive of coherence from kindergarten to third grade. Counting is essential in all grades of early math, and this lesson design helps break down barriers between grade levels.

Common classroom practices are an important first step in creating a collaborative environment where teachers and students enjoy consistency across grade levels.

The greatest challenges in any school district arise at transition points – from building to building or from level to level. Through this exercise, the board experienced an aspect of coherence, which, on a broader level, involves connecting the dots in the classroom to the principal’s office to the board room so that all aspects of a district work together to create the best environment for students.

Today we face difficult transition points requiring strong connections. The investment of nearly $ 3 billion over the next four years is a turning point in California public education. With the recall election behind us, we can now begin planning knowing that the governor’s education program is secure.

Creating a 14th grade in our public schools is a game-changer, especially for students from socio-economically disadvantaged homes and students learning English. But the promise of a transitional kindergarten will fail if it is created as a stand-alone program in California’s 1,000 school districts.

Although high-quality education for 4-year-olds is difficult to access, even in the state’s largest districts located in densely populated urban centers, most districts in California are small, less than 2 years old. 500 students and located in rural areas, further compounding the challenge. early education options. Since many of these districts are often the largest employer in the community, the ability to offer transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds will fill a critical gap in access to early childhood education through California.

Districts across the state are already working to strengthen linkages between grades for all K-3 students and adapt their systems to make this possible.

At Monterey Peninsula Unified, Kindergarten to Grade 3 teachers as well as principals and district administrators engaged in a collaborative book study focused on early math practices. The Sausalito-Marin City Elementary District filled the gap for students by creating an improvement team linking teachers, administrators, the county education staff office with two nonprofit preschool education providers to lead this job.

While individual districts can do this important work for our younger learners in isolation, we know educators are stronger together. Since June 2020, in a year of almost entirely distance learning, nine California districts have connected, collaborated and supported each other to build an academic and structural bridge between preschool and third grade.

These district teams came together virtually to share classroom practices and promising data on successes, challenges and obstacles. Despite the differences in size and geography, these districts shared a commitment to better serve socio-economically disadvantaged and emerging bilingual students.

Back in Buttonwillow, the board members managed to group their plastic farm animals into groups of three and four to complete the lesson. While this activity alone won’t create consistency, Yanez and Gonzalez both expressed that they were happy that the board members had a tangible example of how teachers work together at all grade levels.

“Even in our small district, it’s important to give our board members a connection to the student experience,” they noted. Buttonwillow Superintendent Stuart Packard noted that the board presentation was “an opportunity for our teacher-leaders to showcase their quality teamwork over the past year. Their persistence in continuing to emphasize consistency even during distance learning was commendable.

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