Imagine a world in which children go to preschool at the neighborhood elementary campus they plan to attend. The Santa Monica-Malibu school district already has.
District officials last month unveiled a proposed early learning pathway and introduced a pilot program that would include preschool programming at two SMMUSD sites this coming fall.
Although the local Board of Education did not take any action following the study session, district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said more information will soon be available on the tuition structure and other district expenses related to facility upgrades.
The plans for expanding early childhood education build on years of work by district officials and community advocates, according to Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent for educational services.
“They knew better, before anyone else,” she said. “If you start children with a good preschool program, it serves them throughout their life.”
Indeed, the study session came amid increased focus by city and state leaders on the impacts and potential benefits of early childhood education as they attempt to close longstanding achievement gaps.
The Santa Monica Cradle to Career initiative has singled out preparation for kindergarten as a priority as it strives to improve youth wellbeing. In June, the school board approved an agreement between the district and Santa Monica College to establish a collaborative preschool program that would serve 108 area children under age 6 at John Adams Child Development Center and Washington West Preschool.
President Obama noted the importance of pre-kindergarten programs in his last State of the Union address. A recent report by the nonprofit American Institutes for Research shows that preschool and transitional kindergarten opportunities give students advantages over their peers.
“Without access to high-quality school readiness programs, low-income children, children of color and English learners enter school at a disadvantage,” reads a statement by Early Edge California, an education advocacy group, “and those who start behind often stay behind.”
Edison Language Academy and Grant Elementary School have been chosen as pilot sites for fall 2016. Officials hope to launch preschool at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School in Malibu by 2017. They discussed aligning the preschool program with transitional kindergarten and kindergarten options. The preschool and TK programs have been dubbed Seaside and Bridges, respectively.
Transitional kindergarten is currently offered at Will Rogers, McKinley and Webster elementary schools.
Ben Swett, a district parent who has been involved with the Santa Monica Child Care and Early Education Task Force, brought up the district’s recently implemented centralized fundraising system, which was touted as a way to improve equity across SMMUSD. He said that discussion is also relevant to issues involving kindergarten readiness.
“If you want to equalize outcomes, the place to do that is invest in early childhood,” he told the board. “I’m happy to see you’re taking steps in that direction. [This is] another opportunity to push things further and go faster if you want to. Santa Monica leads the world in yoga, but we also have great early education resources.”