Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Three-District Collaboration on Early Learning in Washington State

March 24, 2013

I’ve been reminded, once again, that the values we espouse at the foundation – optimism, innovation, collaboration and rigor – are also those that drive the work of so many of our key partners. 

In Washington State, our Early Learning strategy relies on these values to bring about great opportunities for our youngest learners. What we hope for is that our partners employ these values as they play well with others.

Three of the largest school districts in Washington state – Edmonds, Everett and Seattle – have pulled together in a spirit full of collaboration and innovation and formed a three-district coalition to work together on key pieces of early learning/early elementary alignment. In doing so, they’re showing other school districts in Washington, and across the country, what’s possible.

Strong partnerships between school districts and their early learning partners are critical in assuring that children have high quality experiences when they’re very young, are prepared for their first day of kindergarten, and flourish and succeed in the critical elementary years of kindergarten, first, second and third grades. This connection between early learning and elementary school goes by many names. In Washington we usually refer to it as P-3 or PreK-3rd.

Initially the Edmonds/Everett/Seattle Coalition tackled two key pieces of a PreK-3rd approach: engaging district leaders – including superintendents and school board members – and supporting teachers and principals in the challenging but essential work of PreK-3rd grade alignment.

It is critical that leaders understand the opportunities posed by collaborating with early learning providers, as well as the developmental continuum of children from birth through age eight.  For teachers and principals in kindergarten through third grade, alignment among all partners from PreK up through third grade, as well as alignment within each of the early elementary years, are demanding but ultimately rewarding tasks.

Early Learning is an incredibly busy playing field in Washington right now, and the three districts have also taken on another game-changing opportunity – kindergarten entry assessment.   

As the recipient of a federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant, Washington state is well-equipped to implement key pieces of an early learning system, including a kindergarten entry assessment.  Washington state's version is known as WaKIDS.  

Now in its third year, and scaling up through Race to the Top, WaKIDS provides critical information to kindergarten and early elementary teachers, principals, early learning providers and families.  With WaKIDS, teachers will collect data – through a whole child assessment, conversations with families and collaboration with early learning providers – about the strengths and needs of entering kindergarteners.  This provides districts and teachers with invaluable information as these young children begin their K-12 careers.   However, implementing WaKIDS has posed many challenges.   The process can be demanding and time consuming.

Edmonds, Everett and Seattle School Districts have taken on the challenge of WaKIDS, in the context of a PreK-3rd approach.  The districts have collaborated on trainings and shared innovations, in the belief that working together will always bring better results than working alone. 

We are optimistic that the work Edmonds, Everett and Seattle are doing – as well as other strong P-3 district efforts across the state – will lead to stronger partnerships and higher achievement for our youngest learners.

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