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Educators focus on school readiness
November 17, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Daily Journal file photo Children play at Family Connections in Redwood City.


Success in academics starts early and requires many people to work together, a message that was discussed at length during the Connecting Ready Kids to Ready Schools event held in San Mateo Thursday.

Sponsored by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Thursday’s gathering at the San Mateo Marriott was part of the nonprofit’s campaign for third grade achievement. The half-day forum showcased how even students who start kindergarten prepared can fall behind by third grade if teachers don’t work together and curriculum isn’t aligned. Such success is more easily achieved when parents are also engaged. Making that happen is a national challenge. Educators came together to discuss the issue’s challenges and possible solutions.

Student achievement in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties has grown in recent years, said Michelle Sioson Hyman, initiative officer for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. However, the gap in achievement between different ethnic groups remain. One way to combat that is to work with children at a younger age, she said. Sixty-one percent of children in the region are not prepared when they enter kindergarten, Hyman said.

Local numbers are following a national achievement gap trend.

Kristie Kauerz, research assistant professor at the  University of Washington, specializes in pre-kindergarten to third grade approaches and reform efforts. One problem she noted is a lack of consistency in what children are exposed to prior to starting traditional school. Once in school, the quality of education children are receiving is also inconsistent. A study of Chicago schools found students were more successful when in programs in which teachers worked together to align curriculum through third grade. That kind of success starts with leadership, she said.

In San Mateo County, one thing being done to foster such collaboration is the Bridges to Success Initiative focusing on Ready Schools Teams. In five districts — Cabrillo, Jefferson, La Honda Pescadero, Pacifica and Redwood City — teams are made up with educators from local schools and early childhood educators and families to create a stronger team so children are better prepared for school.

Elizabeth Schuck, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Cabrillo Unified, said she always assumed that public and private preschools in the area were working together to assure similar quality and topics were covered. Turns out that wasn’t the case, she said.

By bringing preschool representatives together with district staff, the group has created a plan to foster engagement by all — teachers, parents, community organizations — in hopes of supporting children earlier. Now, incoming kindergarten students will take part in a common assessment at the start of school. That way, the student needs are known right away and support can start immediately, she said.

Earlier this year, Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman made the argument that creating a successful workforce starts by investing in children before they are 5 by supplementing resources of disadvantaged families. By age 3, gaps in achievement and understanding are set. Statistically, those remain throughout education, Heckman said while he was in San Mateo in March. To make effective change, the United States needs to start talking about prevention rather than remediation, he said. Basically, he said focusing on children who have successful social-emotional skills, cognitive skills and are in good health allows for success in the future.


Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.


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