The “Four Cs” in kindergarten

I was pleased to be able to write an article for District Administrator magazine on the subject of the role of the “Four Cs” in kindergarten. It was published today and I’d love to share it with you…

Four Cs play powerful role in kindergarten schools

Think back to what made you successful college and career. In my case, what comes to mind are the ability to think critically, ask deep questions and apply lessons from the classroom to real-world settings.

These are all so-called 21st century skills that are increasingly essential for children to learn—and to use as a means for success in both college and career.

Now, imagine if children could learn these skills as early as kindergarten. While college and career readiness may seem like a far-off proposition for our nation’s 5-year-olds, the education they get now is crucial to their future success.

Researchers point to the 48 percent of disadvantaged children across the United States who enter kindergarten with a learning gap. One in 10 elementary school students who were “far off track” in reading and math in a 2012 study were able to meet on-track college readiness benchmarks by eighth grade.

Take one of the schools in my district, Katherine Smith Elementary in a San Jose, California, neighborhood that has dealt with persistent socioeconomic barriers.

We have begun to overcome these obstacles, building partnerships with New Tech Network and the Buck Institute of Education to bolster our teachers’ use of project-based learning.

In the process, it also became a Partnership for 21st Century Learning Exemplar School, leveraging P21’s supports to effectively embed collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking (the four C’s) into our kindergartners’ curricula.

As a result of this project-based work, educators have the chance to not only teach kindergartners basic skills in math, reading and science, but to also present the opportunities to apply those skills in real-world settings.

Consider how kindergartners may not just learn about the problem of stray animals, but also to use their logical reasoning skills to collaboratively develop preventative solutions, which they present to their teachers and community leaders.

Consider how kindergartners may not only sound out their letters, but also demonstrate an early interest in reading by creating videos on how they would teach that concept to preschoolers and others in the community.

This type of learning is at the core of a 21st century classroom, prompting students to build off of each other’s ideas, create collaboratively and offer constructive feedback. In the process, kindergartners can form the basis for how they will approach issues and conflicts in their lives. And our educators have embraced the approach.

Through a Critical Friends exercise embedded in professional development, they show their peers what deeper learning, effective collaboration and rigorous problem-solving look like—and then all educators model the successful practices to their students.

Teachers make effective use of professional learning communities to build projects and share critical feedback. In 21st century, project-based instruction, it is critical to not only use the concrete measures of student achievement but also those qualitative assessments of school climate.

Conduct a Youth Truth Survey, which measures students’ perceptions of what they are learning, how they are challenged and their relationships with peers. These insights allow educators to adapt their instruction to support an innovative learning culture.

Broad investment in project-based learning and assessment produces a 21st century learning community that emphasizes application and collaboration. In this type of classroom, students as early as kindergarten use the four Cs to tackle complex problems and prepare for success in college and career.

As project-based learning gains traction—even in kindergarten—college and career readiness for our nation’s 5-year-olds may not seem like such a far-off proposition.

 

Always remember to celebrate

I was reminded, reading an article in the Mercury News on October 26 (Evergreen schools campaign: Cash boosts profile of normally quiet race) that sometimes we forget to celebrate our successes. The article, mostly about candidates running for seats on the Evergreen Board of Trustees, made an offhanded reference to the District as being “once-touted.” It struck me as an odd turn of phrase given all we have seen accomplished here in recent years. The reference was made in regard to declining enrollments which we know are largely driven by demographic changes as fewer families with school age children live here, and post recession, put quite bluntly, families stopped having as many babies. As families age out of elementary and middle school there are fewer children to replace them. Our job is to handle these changes as effectively as possible but not to wallow in a sense of self-imposed woe.

Removed from the enrollment question, I would argue the reference in the Mercury News should have perhaps simply read, “Touted.” Our District remains on the cutting edge of education trends, and remains much celebrated. When we look at Evergreen School receiving the county’s only national Blue Ribbon designation, or the launch of the new Lobo School of Innovation, or the amazing project-based learning going on at several schools, Evergreen being accepted as one of just 19 Districts in the National Network of Innovative School Districts or K. Smith School being named a New Tech Exemplary Demonstration Site, we see a thriving District that we can all be proud of. Let’s always remember to look at the big picture when talking about our schools and districts, lest we forget to note the many successes that live there.

– Kathy

Why public schools matter

I just finished reading a recent NPR blog post about Rocketship charter schools that called into question their practices around behavior management and their relentless pursuit of high test scores.

As a life-long educator, I understand the importance of summative assessments and the mixed feelings of joy and frustration that spring forth after getting your class, school, or district’s CAASPP results. I also understand that if we want to be a country that is proud of its schools, we must engage students much more deeply. We have to set the conditions that allow them to think critically, collaborate effectively, persevere in finding creative solutions, and communicate well, orally and in writing. These things don’t happen in classrooms where student behavior and engagement is scripted and restricted. They happen in classrooms and schools where students are respected and empowered to have an authentic voice in how things get done. They happen when students encounter natural consequences for their behavior. They happen when students are challenged to make connections to what they are learning in the classroom and how it applies to real life, outside the classroom. These things can and are happening in public, neighborhood elementary schools, particularly in Evergreen.

We’re proud of the way we work with families to deliver a balanced education that looks at a holistic approach to learning. The conversation around the value of a public school education must be had and we’re happy and proud to engage. Watch this space for more on this important topic – we have lots more to say.

Equity

I think most of us understand the concept of equity; it means giving the other what he or she needs so that he/she can be as successful as the one who has more. This means that in some cases you give more to those who have less to start with. It’s a bit sensitive because the idea of allocating resources “unequally” doesn’t always feel right. I was raised to share – if I have one cookie and one sister, I need to share the cookie 50/50. Thinking in terms of equity rather than equality though would mean that if I’ve already had a cookie, I give a bigger share to my sister who’s had none. Now cookies are pretty easy to talk about but for a school district, what does equity mean about the distribution of resources?

Equity is at the heart of Title 1 funding and it’s also at the heart of the Local Control Funding Formula that provides additional dollars for students who are on the free/reduced lunch program, are English learners, or are foster youth. The thinking is that these students have greater needs and will require more support to be on a level playing ground with other students. therefore the additional Title 1 and LCFF dollars can be used to provide that support.

Equity is an important concept in education but it only exists in an environment of limited resources and that’s where the rubber meets the road.

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Here we go…

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To connect the work of the District to our families 

To link families with the District

A nexus between our schools and families

 

I’ve been resisting starting this blog for a while. It’s not that I don’t like writing or sharing my thinking with folks because I do! My reluctance to begin is rooted in my fear that this blog won’t be viable or of interest to readers.

Before launching, I researched several superintendent blogs and found them to be filled with information that was accessible many other places and also filled with the types of things one would expect… “We passed the bond!” “Test scores came back great!” “Kids watch too much TV” Don’t get me wrong…these are all fine topics but is it what people want to hear? I’m not so sure.

I really want to go deeper to explore the challenging questions that plague education in general and Evergreen School District in particular. I want to address the questions that our community has. I welcome the opportunity to respond to your questions and invite you to email them to me at kgomez@eesd.org.

Kathy Gomez, Superintendent, Evergreen School District