School Leadership Training in New Jersey: Promoting Linkages with Early Childhood

Apr 26, 2011

By Teresa Lim

The benefits obtained by young children attending high quality early education programs can easily unravel in the absence of a cohesive, consistent system that sustains and builds on early childhood gains as young children transition from preschool through the early elementary years.

In New Jersey, a group of state education leaders and advocates collaborated to strengthen understanding among school districts about the importance of creating linkages from pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade and to provide school administrators with tools and strategies to create such seamless linkages. A new case study from Advocates for Children of New Jersey profiles these efforts. In the fall of 2009, the group launched the PreK-3rd Leadership Training Series to prepare school administrators on how to develop and implement an effective PreK-3rd approach to education. Over four sessions, the series presented a PreK-3rd system framework, consisting of nine key components including teacher/teaching quality, child-based assessments, transitions and family and community engagement. While training initiatives often focus on teaching staff, NJ advocates and education leaders recognized the influential role of school administrators in connecting early childhood and the early elementary years.

Nearly 200 school district leaders across the state participated in the training series. Participants were surveyed before and after completing the training series to gage the program's impacts. The pre- and post- survey findings reveal promising results and highlights areas where New Jersey as well as other states can work on building linkages.

Although the vast majority of survey respondents had Head Start and/or other community-based programs in their school districts, nearly a third reported knowing nothing or very little about these community programs. Even among those that had greater knowledge, nearly half reported that they had little communication with them. In addition, survey results indicate that most participants had minimal understanding of the different types of assessments used in early childhood programs and how to use these assessments to inform teaching practices.  Most transition activities also centered only on the move from preschool to kindergarten and not beyond.

After completing the training series, participants appeared to translate their newly-gained knowledge into practice. Sixty percent of respondents indicated that they or their staff had increased contact with community programs since participating in the training series. Moreover, about half reported that they planned to implement pieces of the PreK-3rd approach that were not presently implemented in their school, such as regular pre-k and kindergarten staff meetings or implementation of a preschool curriculum.

Disconnects between early childhood and early elementary school are not uncommon. Yet, an effective early education system needs strong connections and linkages across all domains of learning beginning as early as the infant/toddler years through 3rd grade. The NJ Leadership Training Series offers a model for other states and school districts working on linkages between the early education years.

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