Data-Driven Family Engagement Tools for Head Start and State Preschools

Learning Genie is an app for ECE educators and family service workers for Distant Learning and Family Engagement including tracking in-kind. During the COVID-19 crisis, Learning Genie offers free tools till the end of 2020 under a grant (or in-kind) to support all ECE agencies for Distance Learning and track school readiness outcomes.


Learning Genie also provides a useful application for portfolio-building. The portfolio tracking and tagging systems could be readily applied to DRDP 2015, Florida VPK, Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), Montessori, and other state or private-backed assessment tools.

8 Practical Tips for TK Program Planning and Launch

– Invited Blogs –

01. Why did we decide to expand TK in our district and what were some of the obstacles?

  • When TK was implemented in fall 2012, our district basically had TK/K combos at all six of the elementary sites.Some learning facilitators didn’t even know who their TK learners were.
  • Each year we advocated and fought for “real” TK learning environments (LEs), not combo classes.It took a while (3 years), but it was finally approved to create TK only learning environments. In August 2015, we opened 2 TK learning environments at two of the 6 elementary sites.
  • This was better than the TK/K combos that we had before; however, it still wasn’t ideal or developmentally appropriate.The ratio was 27:1 and the learning environments didn’t have restrooms.
  • We knew this still wasn’t the best learning experience for our learners, so I then contacted that State and received approval to do a PreK/TK learning environment, in which we do a wraparound/stacking program with CSPP and TK.This has created a seamless full-day TK experience.
  • We began our CSPP PreK/TK Program in August 2017.We currently have 3 TK learning environments and we are planning to open an additional TK learning environment/s each year to eventually have at least one TK at each of the six elementary school sites and more as needed.

02. What steps has our district taken to ensure that we have a successful UTK program that is instructionally appropriate for young children?

  • Now all of our TK learners are in developmentally appropriate licensed rooms with learner restrooms and a kitchen type area.They receive family style breakfast in the learning environment in the morning and lunch in the cafeteria.
  • We now have 8:1 ratio, which includes a full time certificated credentialed learning facilitator (teacher), a full time preschool learning facilitator with a Child Development Teacher Permit, and two part-time instructional assistants (one 3.5-hour assistant during the AM and one 3.5 hour assistant during the PM, who have at least 12 CD/ECE units and often times also have their Child Development Teacher Permit).
  • Our TK learning environments follow all Title 5 and Title 22 regulations, which helps to make sure they are developmentally appropriate and high quality.They are fun engaging learning environments, not what typical kindergarten environments look like in most school districts.
  • We do DRDP, utilizing Learning Genie in all of our TK learning environments and ASQs are completed for all learners. TK LEs are also assessed in ECERS and CLASS. This really helps to keep TK developmentally appropriate, because the learning facilitators really want to score well on these assessments.
  • The TK outdoor educational play areas are also licensed and developmentally appropriate.Following ECERS, a variety of toys, materials, supplies, bikes, scooters, books, pretend play, etc. go out each day in order for outdoor time to also be instructional.
  • Due to the fact that there currently isn’t an adopted curriculum specifically for TK, we utilize portions of a variety of developmentally appropriate curriculum aligning them to the California Preschool Learning Foundations and Frameworks and all of our preschool and TK learning environments have implemented Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL).
  • The PreK/TK staff co-plan, co-teach, both assess learners, and work together as a team with the instructional assistants.
  • In our district, TK remains a parent choice. We have many parents in our area who do not prefer to send their 4/5 year old child to a full day program and would choose to keep them home if that were the only option, but we can offer and enroll them in our part-day State Preschool Program instead. We conference with all of our TK families to help them determine if preschool or TK is the most appropriate placement for their learner and/or family.

03. Where does governance for preschool/ TK sit in our district, and what are the benefits and challenges of this choice?

  • The Director of Early Childhood Education oversees the entire preschool and the program component of TK.
  • Currently the principal and site admin are considered the supervisor of the credentialed TK learning facilitator and complete their evaluation at the end of the year, with input from the Director of Early Childhood Education.
  • The Director of Early Childhood Education is considered the supervisor of the preschool learning facilitator (LF) with the Child Development Permit and of the two instructional assistants and complete their evaluation at the end of the year.
  • The Director of Early Childhood Education and site admin collaborate in order to run the effective high quality TK program.
  • Along with district and site trainings, the Early Childhood Education Department provides professional learning to the TK staff and sends them to additional training opportunities as well (DRDP, ASQ, ECERS, CLASS, SEAL, early childhood PDs, etc.)
  • Through learning environment observations, we provide coaching and feedback to staff regarding instruction, procedures, guidelines, etc.
  • The Early Childhood Education Department collaborates with and educates site admin on what is developmentally appropriate and best for our TK learners.An example of this was, when we began our TK program, the credentialed LF was extremely worried they would be “in trouble” if the site admin came into the learning environment and saw the learners “just playing.” The pretend play kitchen was in the learning environment, but the LF didn’t want the learners to use it. We had to educate the LFs and admin regarding what intentional play is, means, and looks like.
  • The preschool LFs in the TK learning environments provide a lot of coaching, modeling, and educating the credentialed LFs and vice versa.We also have LFs observe in each other’s learning environments.
  • We are hoping to hire a P-3 Curriculum and Instruction Specialist who will also provide coaching, professional learning, etc.
  • This model has worked well for us, but some of the challenges of this can be:
    • Some principals/site admin may not see the importance of TK or be as supportive as you hope and do not understand early childhood education and its important components.
    • Some principals/site admin may want to have complete control of their site and not always have the knowledge or best interest of the TK learners in mind or the opposite, in which they may be completely hands off and have the Director run the entire TK program without providing any support.
    • Some credentialed learning facilitators think they are more knowledgeable and rank higher than the preschool staff in the same learning environment.
    • Elementary sites are not used to having learners who are not potty trained.  – “diaper changing isn’t in our job description”
    • TK credentialed staff can be worried that when their site admin comes into the learning environment that it looks like the learners are just “playing.”
    • The professional learning provided by the district or site; isn’t always appropriate and doesn’t always pertain to TK.
    • Licensing – can be a challenge and a benefit.Licensing isn’t always familiar with the learning environment being located on a school site with other non-licensed learners.
  • Some of the benefits can be:
    • Licensing can be utilized to get site admin to follow guidelines that they may not want to follow.
    • The Director of Early Childhood Education has the early childhood knowledge to run the TK program and can educate, advocate, collaborate, and work with the site admin to make sure the TK is developmentally appropriate.
    • Having the credentialed LF and preschool LF in the same learning environment provides two LFs both with different yet important knowledge for our TK learners.They can plan, collaborate, and educate each other to make a high quality TK program.
    • The Director of Early Childhood Education provides professional learning to the preschool staff in the TK learning environment and includes the credentialed LF whenever possible.
  • I believe the LEAs should be required to have a designated person in charge of the entire district’s Early Learning (whether it be PreK/TK, P-3, etc.).This person should have some background in this area. I don’t think the UTK should be placed under the umbrella of the site principals/admin, who already have enough on their plate and usually do not have the knowledge, education, or experience in this particular field.

04. How can this be replicated around the state?

  • This model can be replicated if you have buy-in from district administration and if everyone sees the importance of the program.
  • Principals and admin need to be educated in the area of early childhood regarding what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.Usually the principals end up loving TK on their site, especially if they have someone like a Director of Early Learning to help support them and the staff. The TK staff love what they are doing if supported and everyone sees the importance and benefits of the program.
  • I am happy to help others advocate to their district admin.I am happy to have visitors to our program and/or have virtual tours and meetings to help other districts create high quality TK learning environments.

05. What did we need in place in order to get buy-in from the district?

  • We needed the support of the School Board and the data to show the benefits.
  • Our School Board was initially the driving force to expand preschool in our district.  Some board members attended a conference in which one of the presentations was on early childhood education and they came back asking questions about preschool in our district. Once the board expressed interest in this area, it then became more of a priority and is now viewed as a critical component in our district. Before the board expressed this interest, the district was not really contributing funding to the preschool program outside of CSPP funds or funds specifically designated to preschool. The district then decided to provide preschool for all children in Lindsay regardless if they qualify for State Preschool and they began to contribute LCAP funds in order to create this Preschool for ALL program in Lindsay. Once preschool was a priority, then we also began to advocate for TK.
  • Kindergarten learning facilitators also advocated for preschool and TK, because they could see the difference in the data results from the learners who had preschool and TK.
  • One kindergarten LF even did a study tracking 21 kindergarten learners throughout the school year and used detailed spreadsheets to compare learner performance and found a significant difference between learners who had preschool and/or TK and those who did not have the early childhood education experience in order to advocate for a preschool learning environment and TK at her elementary site.  We now have a preschool and TK at this site and she is also now one of our TK LFs.
  • The district also did their own research on K-3 grade learner performance that compared those with preschool experience to those without just to make sure the data was correct and the differences were significant. When they ran the data and analyzed the reports the district realized that early childhood education was truly making a difference.

06. What lessons did we learn about partnerships that we would share?

  • It is very beneficial to build partnerships with your school board, district administrators surrounding community colleges, the county office of education, LPC, Local QRIS consortium, local First 5, etc.
  • We recommend you do your homework, stay informed (EveryChild CA can help with this), and become extremely knowledgeable in the field.
  • Buildrelationships with all of the key players, because if you only have the relationship with one or a few key people and they leave, the priority and focus could shift.

07. How have we developed an effective preschool and TK educator workforce, and what our plans are to expand the workforce in the coming years?

  • I do worry about the workforce when UTK is fully implemented, because many credentialed staff will have to go back to school for additional units in order to meet the 24 CD/ECE units and our preschool staff do not currently have teaching credentials and would also have to go back to school, which can be challenging for some staff and their families while working full time.
  • I think it would be great if LEAs could also have the option to utilize our current model, in which the TK learning environment has one credentialed LF and a preschool LF, having two staff members together have the proper requirements rather than all the requirements being held by the lead LF.This has been very beneficial in our district. Districts may have some really amazing preschool and/or credentialed staff that would be great in TK, but may not be in the right place in their life to go back to school right now.
  • I sent out a Google Form to all credentialed staff and preschool staff in order to see who might be interested, what credentials, units, permits, etc. they hold, if they are possibly willing to get the required education, and what questions they have. Some staff were interested in TK and willing to go back to school; however, going back to school and acquiring the needed units or credential also takes time and we need the staff right now.
  • We are working with our local county office of education to help our staff get the required education for TK.
  • In our District, we have dual enrollment classes with our community college, in which students interested in Early childhood can graduate high school with 6 units of child development and can then work in the learning environments while they are going to college.
  • We also have lab students from the local community colleges, which has been beneficial, because it gives us an opportunity to train them and hire them as assistants.

08. What are our approaches for supporting dual language learners and inclusion within our TK classrooms?

  • All of our preschool and TK learning environments utilize the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) model, which is a powerful English Learner-focused approach to education.SEAL is inclusive of all learners, creating an environment where children engage together in rigorous, joyful, content and language-rich learning.
  • The predominant languages spoken by the families in Lindsay are English and Spanish. All TK staff speak English fluently and each TK learning environment has at least one staff member who is fluent in Spanish in order to help communicate and provide instruction for the learners and families.All DLL TK families also complete the Family Language and Interest Interview.
  • LUSD is also an inclusive preschool and TK program.LUSD ensures the inclusion of all learners with disabilities by identifying learners early and providing them the necessary modifications, accommodations, adaptations, and supports needed so they can learn and develop in the least restrictive environment along with their typically developing peers.
  • LUSD has a Preschool/TK Special Education/Support Staff Team, which consists of a Education/Transition Specialist, Speech and Language Pathologist, Speech and Language Pathology Specialist, Psychologist, Family Resource Center Program Specialist, Family Resource Center Program Coordinator, Family Services Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Registered Nurse.This team provides support to our TK learners and staff by modeling, coaching, providing professional learning opportunities, providing materials and supplies, services, etc. whenever needed.
  • We recently hired Education/Behavior Specialist Assistants for preschool/TK in order to better support our special needs learners.
  • We continually provide professional learning in the areas of dual language learners and special needs, but to be honest it seems like we can never have enough training in these areas.
  • The initial barriers we had to overcome were mostly financial.We had to find our own funds and it took a while to be able to find the funds to support our TK learners, especially our special needs learners. Now the district sees the importance and benefits of early childhood education and intervention and is helping to support our TK learners.