Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Principals can strengthen the pre-K-to-third-Grade pipeline.

Rhian Evans Allvin was reminded of this a number of years ago at a conference. Allvin — executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) — recalls hearing a principal at the conference who “spoke of how he sent out letters to parents of newborns in his district, welcoming them into the learning community and offering a list of available early childhood resources and opportunities.”

Allvin’s experience is part of an article, “Strategies for Aligning Pre-K -3,” in the January/February 2015 edition of Principal Magazine.

The article highlights the release of “Leading Pre-K-3 Learning Communities: Competencies for Effective Principal Practice.”

The guide helps principals “create and support connections between the worlds of birth-to-five and K-12 and… implement developmentally-appropriate teaching and learning practices to ensure successful Pre-K-3 continuums in their schools,” the executive summary explains.

Published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the full guide can be ordered on the NAESP website

The Challenges 

“Successfully navigating the pre-K-3 continuum requires a principal to essentially straddle the separate universes of birth-to-age-5 and K-12, each with their separate histories of infrastructure, preparation, policy, and funding streams,” the article says.

“We have a birth-through-[age]-3 system; we have an infant/toddler system; and we have a 3- and 4-year-old system that is sometimes tied to the infant/toddler piece, sometimes not,” Libby Doggett says in the article. Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning at the U.S. Department of Education. “We also have pre-K that’s tied to schools so this is really the bridge. But we’ve got to make this bridge work and that’s going to require alignment across systems that haven’t worked together before.”

Principal Preparation

The guide points to six areas of competency that principals should practice:

• embrace the pre-K-3 early learning continuum
• ensure developmentally appropriate teaching
• provide personalized learning environments
• use multiple measures of assessment to guide student learning growth
• build professional capacity across the learning community, and,
• make schools a hub of pre-K-3 learning for families and communities

NAESP also calls on advocates to “Ask your state and district for the following professional development policies that will help principals prepare for the task of leading pre-K-3 learning communities:”

  1. Invest in programs that “build principals’ understanding of effective pre-K-3 teaching practices, appropriate assessment, and use of data to improve teaching and learning.”
  1. Provide on-the-job training so principals can learn about “pre-K-3 developmentally appropriate practices and instructional leadership competencies.”
  1. Provide on-the-job training for teachers along the pre-K-3 continuum to increase their knowledge about “all domains—academic, social, emotional, and physical” and about proven practices that “enhance early learning, including play-based instruction, arts-integration, and blended learning,” and,
  1. Create state technology plans that address the “needs of students in the pre-K-3 continuum… Standards for the use of technology in the early years are also needed, as is support for effective use of technology by educators.”

The full guide also includes questions for reflection; self-assessment tools; links to other resources; and a bibliography.

What Works 

The executive summary labels successful efforts with a “Spotlight on Effective Practice” headline, one covering each of the six competency areas. Of these, here are two examples.

In Enfield, Conn., at Nathan Hale Elementary School, Principal LeAnn Beaulieu works “to align curriculum, standards, and assessments across Pre-K through grade three classrooms.”

This work illustrates the first competency, embracing the pre-K-3 early learning continuum.

“… Beaulieu and her staff have made it their mission to develop strong relationships with local Pre-K programs and receiving grade three through six elementary schools, often meeting throughout the year to examine best practices and areas for improvement.”

“Each year, Principal Beaulieu meets with community pre-K program directors to discuss the students who will be entering Nathan Hale’s kindergarten class and to develop strategies around their individual education plans. These plans are based on the district-required school readiness checklists completed by all Pre-K teachers.”

“Connecticut has also taken a state approach to aligning the Birth-to-Five Early Learning and Developmental Domains with K-3 Standards, providing professional development opportunities for principals and public school leaders around the continuum.”

Hawaii gets a nod for the fifth competency, building professional capacity across the learning community.

As the executive summary explains, “Through funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation and the Kamehameha Schools, the Hawaii P-3 Initiative supports five demonstration sites across the islands. These sites develop a ‘spider web’ of early childhood and elementary school partnerships focused on the goal of improving access to quality educational experiences and supporting students to read on grade level by third grade.”

Of course, principals will be most effective if they are part of a larger team. As the executive summary says:

“Principals are indeed important, but they cannot do this work alone. Throughout the competencies and strategies outlined in this guide, we acknowledge the essential communications and collaboration that must occur between principals and teachers, as well as among parents, families, and external partners within the community. Continual engagement and shared responsibility among all of these stakeholders is essential to delivering effective, developmentally appropriate learning for all children.”