New Bedford’s Emerging Work on Transitions and Some Good Resources

The New Bedford Birth–3rd Leadership Alignment Team has chosen to focus its work on three strategies: 1) improving transitions, 2) aligned and collaborative professional development for community-based and district early childhood teachers focused on social-emotional  and literacy skills, and 3) effective use of Teaching Strategies Gold data. I’m supporting the New Bedford team along with Titus DosRemedios of Strategies for Children. The Leadership Alignment Team has been investigating the current state of transitions in New Bedford and is developing a survey that will capture additional information on transitions, curriculum, assessment, students served, and related practices.

New Bedford’s Birth–3rd team has also formed a Transitions Working Group that will plan and implement New Bedford’s transitions strategy in consultation with the broader team. As this group begins its work, we have come across a few helpful resources. Karen Surprenant of Pace Head Start shared this slide deck on Effective Transitions to Enhance School Readiness from Head Start’s National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. In addition to the two sample transition forms shared by Somerville and Pittsfield, we are reviewing the Articulation Checklist and Transition Discussion Template found in the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s very useful Birth-to-College Collaborative Toolbox. Also see this page of transition resources from the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Of course these resources only scratch the surface of the many useful guidance documents on transitions, so please share ones you have found helpful by commenting on this post or emailing me at jacobsondl [at] gmail.com.

Pittsfield Literacy Partnership Helps Design Innovative Family Court Program

“At first I wasn’t too thrilled about having to be here, but I was willing to give it a chance to help my son and his father.” Heather Hinckley, talking to The Berkshire Eagle, is referring to a new pilot program in Pittsfield, a 12-week course entitled, Enhancing Families through Literature. Through this course, Heather, her toddler son, and his father met with other families on Wednesday nights at the Berkshire Athenaeum to eat dinner and either discuss modern fiction or read children’s books.

Enhancing Families through Literature is an innovative adaptation of an alternative sentencing program that began in New Bedford 25 years ago and has spread across the nation. In the original program, Changing Lives through Literature, individuals convicted of crimes are sentenced to probation rather than prison with the stipulation that they participate in a literature course. In Pittsfield, court officials have collaborated with members of the local Birth—3rd literacy partnership to adapt the program for families with young children.

After attending a workshop on Changing Lives through Literature, Berkshire Chief Probation Officer Amy Koenig and Judge Richard A. Simons were intrigued by its possibilities. They wanted, however, to find a way to meet more directly the needs of the families they saw in probate and family court, who are often involved in fractious paternity support cases. Pittsfield’s ambitious literacy initiative, the Pittsfield Promise, is established and well-known throughout the community, and thus the court officials reached out to a group of Pittsfield Promise educators, including representatives of Head Start, the library, and the public schools, and Karen Vogel, who coordinates Birth—3rd work for the Berkshire United Way. With young families in mind, this design group made two adaptations to the Changing Lives program: they included a high-quality child care component, and they added a five-week extension that brings parents and children together for early literacy activities.

During the first 7 weeks of Enhancing Families, the parents met with a college literature professor to discuss authors such as Franz Kafka, Junot Diaz, Jamaica Kincaid, and the Brothers Grimm. While the parents were in class together, the children met in another room to read, sing, and play with two experienced early childhood educators, Sue Doucette of the Pittsfield Public Schools and Donna Boschetti of Head Start. Doucette and Boschetti used the opportunity to administer the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, a diagnostic screening assessment, with the children and provided the parents with the resulting information.

The design group also extended the program for an additional five weeks, during which the early childhood teachers led the families in early literacy activities using Every Child Ready to Read, a library program that educates parents and caregivers on nurturing pre-reading skills at home. Pittsfield is the first court system to have added this five-week early literacy component.

Heather Hinckley reports that she and her son Blake’s father Justin Turner are reading to Blake more frequently now, and Blake is “reading” to them, including at Blake’s recent birthday dinner. In a show of support for the program, Chief Probate Officer Koenig and Judge Simons participated in the course as well. They have both been struck by the transformation they have seen in the parents in their attitudes towards the class, shifting from reluctance to being there to active engagement and appreciation. As Judge Simons said in The Berkshire Eagle, “I think it’s a gift we’re giving to families. It’s exceeded all my expectations.”

Chief Probate Officer Koenig and Judge Simons are committed to continuing Enhancing Families through Literature. To further the impact of the course, the design group has recently secured slots in the local Parent—Child home visiting program for some of the graduates of Enhancing Families through Literature. Participants in the Parent—Child home visiting program are in turn all guaranteed slots in a special preschool program run by a local elementary school, resulting in an aligned sequence of care and support for these children.

Karen Vogel, Berkshire United Way’s Birth—3rd coordinator, has been pleased to see the courts embracing the child-family connection. She attributes the creation of Enhancing Families through Literature to the ethos of collaboration that has developed in Pittsfield as the Pittsfield Promise’s literacy work has become more known and visible in the community. For more information on Enhancing Families through Literature, see The Berkshire Eagle’s story, “New Berkshire Probation Program Rallies around Literacy.” For more on Birth–3rd partnerships and innovation, see The Potential of Birth–3rd Partnerships: Relationships, Capacity, and Innovation.

Relationships, Capacity, and Innovation

Innovations often evolve out of a series of what may seem to be minor developments. As a consequence, instead of waiting for disruptive products and technologies, we need to create the conditions for individuals, groups, and organizations to adapt, innovate, and improve all the time.
–Thomas Hatch, Innovation at the Core.

Principals pick up the phone to call preschool directors to discuss specific children. Communities use a new early learning partnership as a platform to win new grant funds. A district invites community-based preschool teachers to share information about rising kindergarten students, significantly influencing classroom assignment decisions.

These are all examples of activities that have emerged out of the work of Birth-3rd partnerships, activities that were not proposed in grant proposals or explicitly planned as partnership strategies. These activities have come about as a result of new relationships—both interpersonal and institutional—developed through Birth-3rd partnerships. Improving learning and care during the primary years from birth through third grade requires implementing strategies that lead to positive outcomes for children and build momentum for continued collaborative work. Effective implementation requires new interpersonal relationships and new institutional arrangements that build local and regional capacity to sustain ongoing improvement and innovation over time. Birth-3rd reform is in effect asking for Early Years Collaboratives that are broader, more robust, and more ambitious in scope than typically has been the case in the past, new institutions and new “infrastructure” that can only be effective if they are undergirded by social relationships and trust.

Collaboration between school districts and community-based preschools on PreK-3rd alignment is a significant component of what I refer to as the Primary Years Agenda. As communities around the country advance Birth-3rd work, and as 12 communities in Massachusetts continue developing Birth-3rd partnerships with funding from the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), it is helpful to keep in mind the interconnected relationship between implementing good strategies and programs and developing institutional relationships and capacity. On the one hand, there is a danger of only of building relationships and never get around to implementing effective strategies. On the other hand, as the examples from Massachusetts and other communities described below suggest, it would likewise be a mistake not to be intentional about developing social and institutional relationships—relationships that build expertise and capacity that in turn lead to ongoing improvement and innovation.

Not Exactly Intended Consequences: Relationships that “Spill Over”

A number of Birth-3rd partnerships in Massachusetts have carried out activities that are surprising—in a sense, extra—from the standpoint of their grant responsibilities and stated strategies. These kinds of extra activities, such as the examples below, are sometimes referred to as “spillover effects.”

Simple invitation, concrete impact.  The Somerville Public Schools has for some years held an annual “speed dating” event in which district prekindergarten teachers went from table to table meeting with kindergarten teachers to discuss the rising kindergarten students that would be transitioning from one teacher to the next. As the Birth-3rd Alignment Partnership was meeting one day, the principal of the Capuano Early Childhood Center came up with the idea of inviting the community-based prekindergarten teachers as well. At the now larger Teacher Talks event, the community-based teachers share information about their children, including, for instance, which ones had strong social-emotional skills and could serve as class leaders and role models. This information influenced classroom assignment decisions as potential leaders were distributed across kindergarten classrooms.

One-to-one relationships and joint decision-making. As a result of relationships formed in Springfield’s early childhood Professional Learning Community, principals and preschool directors began calling each other to discuss children they shared in morning and afternoon programs. On a more structural level, the Birth-3rd Alignment Partnership has engaged in a collaborative decision-making process that includes district and community-based teachers in choosing a new preschool curriculum and making a joint request to the city for funding for the new curriculum.

From partnership strategy to city-wide agenda. Lowell’s alignment partnership began with a strategy focused on two communities. Its diverse Leadership Alignment Team found common ground around the issue of community school readiness. The team reached out to many other city institutions, including health, mental health, social services, and homelessness organizations in addition to city government and even the fire department. With these organizations on board, Lowell has now developed a city school readiness definition and a full-fledged city school readiness agenda that has considerable momentum.

Pooling resources to support parents. Spearheaded by the local United Way, several early childhood organizations in Pittsfield have joined together and pooled resources in order to support families in their parenting roles. Two home visiting organizations—Healthy Families and Parents as Teachers—joined with the local Head Start organization, the Community and Family Engagement coordinator, and the United Way to offer a series of evening Parent Cafes that were organized around the 5 protective factors of the Strengthening Families model. Each organization contributed different resources and undertook different responsibilities related to the workshops, events that provided more supports and were higher profile in nature than any of the organizations could have achieved individually.

From pilot group to stakeholder body. To support the implementation of the Boston Public School’s (BPS) preschool curriculum in community-based preschool classrooms, Boston’s partnership convened a monthly meeting of the directors of the participating preschools. This group has developed over time and has begun to play other roles. The directors asked to pilot a BPS transition form that had previously gone unused. Recently the partnership convened a special meeting to solicit input from this group on Boston’s emerging universal prekindergarten plan, and thus the directors are now serving as an important stakeholder body for the school district.

The Role of Relational Trust in Innovative Systems

Large scale changes come from better cross-sector collaboration rather than the isolated efforts of individual organizations. (Kania and Kramer, 2011)

These examples of informal, unplanned collaboration help illustrate the role of trust and relationships in capacity-building and organizational change. Often referred to as social capital, these types of social relationships are critical to improving educational outcomes. A large study of Chicago elementary schools found that relational trust was a key factor in schools that built professional capacity, developed a student-centered learning climate, and strengthened parent-community ties.  A lead author of that study, Tony Bryk, refers to relational trust as a “lubricant for organizational change” and a “moral resource for sustaining the hard work” of local educational improvement.

Often overlooked, social capital is an important resource within organizations, but also across organizations locally and regionally. Large scale change of the type that the Birth-3rd movement is calling for requires cross-sector collaboration across the mixed delivery system of public and private early childhood education. Such cross-sector collaboration was integral to the success that Montgomery, MD, one of Birth-3rd’s leading edge communities, has achieved in dramatically reduced achievement gaps while raising learning outcomes for all.  Montgomery County’s former superintendent, Jerry Weast, set out to unify a mixed delivery system through an inclusive approach to collaboration and a deliberate blurring of lines across institutions, leading to a culture of shared accountability and deep engagement by stakeholders—an example of social capital acting, in Bryk’s language, as a “moral resource for sustaining hard work” (Childress, 2009; Marietta, 2010).

Montgomery County’s experience is consistent with research on high-performing regions and countries that shows that a common denominator across successful educational systems is the extent to which they invest in social capital by building local and regional networks. Social capital is important in these systems, says Thomas Hatch, in that it leads to sharing resources, information, and expertise while building political and public support. Through inclusive, blurred lines systems such as Montgomery County’s they cultivate collective responsibility for children and an understanding of schooling as, in Hatch’s words, “a communal and societal endeavor.” Facilitated by relational trust and shared understanding, expertise and will and capacity grow, leading to ongoing improvement and innovation. Hatch is in effect drawing a line between informal relationships in which principals call preschool directors in Springfield and innovations in strategy like Lowell’s emergent community school readiness agenda.

In next week’s post, I suggest that the Massachusetts’ experience thus far has several practical implications for how Birth-3rd partnerships go about building the capacity to improve through cross-sector collaboration.

This post was completed as part of a contract between the MA Department of Early Education and Care and Cambridge Education (where David Jacobson worked at the time). Contract # CT EEC 0900 FY13SRF130109CAMBRID. 

In Case You Missed It in August …

For those of you who were perhaps enjoying the last weeks of summer and may have missed it in August, here are links to a three-part series I wrote on the experiences of two community-based preschool teachers implementing a new curriculum. 

Teaching a New Curriculum in East Boston (Boston K1DS at the East Boston YMCA #1)

How does classroom practice change as a result of Birth-Third work? How do children, teachers, and leaders experience these changes? This week I begin a series of posts that examine the experience of implementing a new preschool curriculum from the vantage point of two teachers and the program director at the East Boston YMCA.

Deeper Learning (Boston K1DS at the East Boston YMCA #2)

This week I discuss the impact of longer, more structured units that emphasize multiple and multi-purpose read-alouds of stories and a robust math curriculum aligned to the developmental learning trajectories of 4-year olds.

Small-Groups and the Broader Impact (Boston K1DS at the East Boston YMCA #3)

I conclude the series by describing the use of small-group activities and independent centers as well as changes in classroom management, teacher confidence, and the development of oral language and thinking skills.

 

Small-Groups and the Broader Impact (Boston K1DS at the East Boston YMCA #3)

Gloria in a small group

I introduced the East Boston YMCA’s experience with the BPS Opening the World of Learning (OWL)/Building Blocks curriculum in the first post in this series. In the second, I discussed the impact of longer, more structured units, multiple and multi-purpose read-alouds of stories, and a robust math curriculum. Today I conclude the series by describing the use of small-group activities and independent centers as well as changes in classroom management, teacher confidence, and the development of oral language and thinking skills.

Small-Groups and the Broader Impact

Deeper Learning (Boston K1DS at the East Boston YMCA #2)

another E. Boston circle time

In last week’s post, I began describing the East Boston YMCA’s experience implementing the Boston Public School’s prekindergarten classroom, introducing the range of changes that the new curriculum has brought about. This week I discuss the impact of longer, more structured units that emphasize multiple and multi-purpose read-alouds of stories and a robust math curriculum aligned to the developmental learning trajectories of 4-year olds.

Deeper Learning (Boston K1DS at the East Boston YMCA #2)

Teaching a New Curriculum in East Boston (#1)

How does classroom practice change as a result of Birth-Third work? How do children, teachers, and leaders experience these changes? Having summarized the strategies of the first five Birth-Third Alignment Partnerships in Massachusetts (Boston, Lowell, Pittsfield, Somerville, and Springfield), I am now posting an occasional series of articles describing the on-the-ground experience of implementing these strategies. I began these profiles of direct service by describing teacher professional development in Lowell’s Communities of Practice for family child care and center-based preschool teachers. Future posts will cover home visits in Pittsfield and literacy coaching in Somerville. This week I begin a series of three posts that examine the experience of implementing a new preschool curriculum from the vantage point of two teachers and the program director at the East Boston YMCA.

For this series I’m trying out a new blogging platform called Medium. When you click on the link below, a new tab will open in Medium with the first post on the East Boston YMCA. Medium provides an attractive environment for article-length posts and photos. The type is clean and big, and it’s a distraction-free place to read. There are no sidebars with links inviting you to go somewhere else. Medium also has improved notes and commenting capabilities. Click on the discreet numbers to the right of paragraphs for notes from me (like footnotes) or from other readers. You do not have to sign in to read posts, but if you sign in using your Twitter or Facebook account, you can comment on paragraphs or even sentences or words. Nothing will be posted to your account unless you want it posted. Click the plus sign (+) to the right of a paragraph (or highlight text and click the plus sign) to add comments.

I welcome your comments on the posts, and let me know what you think of Medium via comment or email.

Here is the first post:

Teaching a New Curriculum in East Boston