What is a District-Wide Plan?
A school district’s kindergarten transition plan describes the district’s basic expectations for all schools, covers timely enrollment, sets consistent dates, and establishes clear guidelines for communication with families and pre-school providers. The plan should provide supports for schools for effective implementation, including the following:
- For schools that face particular challenges or have fewer resources, the plan should explain how to seek intensive supports in the form of trainings, tools, or technical assistance from the district and its partners.
- For schools with children who did not attend pre-K, the plan should offer supports for planning community outreach and guidance on making the transition from home care to kindergarten.
Note: A district’s transition plan is made up of formal and informal policies, practices, and plans and reflects the overall culture of schools and district administration as they relate to entering kindergarten. There is no one way a district’s plan should look, but it should reflect the core principles and practices of what we know about high quality transitions.
It is helpful if the district sets the tone in the following ways:
- Quality standards and practice benchmarks for schools
- Ongoing support and capacity building to meet and maintain standards
- Monitoring and accountability within a feedback loop
- Schools can seek assistance from the district
- The district can monitor and support schools
- Ongoing financial assistance linked to meeting standards
- Engagement and outreach (for community partners, families, and schools)
Core transition practices
Transition Activities. A transition activity is designed to smooth a child’s and family’s entrance to kindergarten. Although these activities can take many forms, they should be designed to help each family feel more comfortable during transition. Examples of quality activities include touring the school and building a positive relationship with the teacher and school staff.
Pre-K to K Alignment. When pre-K and kindergarten classrooms share similar expectations for children, curricula, and routines, children experience smoother and easier transitions between learning environments. Partnerships between pre-K and kindergarten classrooms are an excellent way to align expectations and ease transitions. Benchmarks can include regular conversations between K and pre-k teachers.
Welcoming Schools. A welcoming school is a comfortable place for children and families. From a family’s first contact with the school, parents and children should feel safe, invited, and included by the school’s layout, staff, and environment. A welcoming school helps to establish positive relationships between children, parents, and school staff. When children are surrounded by these positive relationships, they can feel comfortable and focus on learning. A great way to help make the school more welcoming is to do a walk-through with a parent. Is it clear which is the main entry door or where the front office is? Standards may include physical attributes of the building or professional development for staff.
Parent Engagement. Parent engagement means building strong and active relationships between parents and schools. Schools can build partnerships with parents in many ways, such as welcoming them into the school, creating open communication, and offering opportunities for parents to build relationships with teachers and other school staff. Engaged parents feel like they are actively involved with the school and are better prepared to assist their children with school activities and homework. Research shows that positive parent involvement is more powerful than many typical educational barriers such as poverty and lower levels of parent education. Standards should look at more than how many times parents come into the school. Measures can include conversations between school and home or home activities that link to learning in the classroom.
Outreach. Outreach to families is a useful tool to get kids enrolled in kindergarten and in the door on day one! Any family, especially families whose children did not attend formal pre-K, may need extra assistance to connect with the school, know when and where enrollment takes place, navigate the enrollment process, and understand the importance of regular attendance in kindergarten, even if it is not mandated by law. Kindergarten Clubs are one example of a way to reach these children and give them the extra support and assistance they may need to be ready for kindergarten on day one. Making connections within the community, such as with housing groups or churches, can help build support for ongoing outreach to find all eligible children.
Why Should a School Have a District Plan?
School districts benefit from having coordinated, district-wide policies and practices for school entry. District-wide plans:
- Encourage best practices and evidence-based strategies by establishing common standards, expectations, and activities for each school in the district
- Smooth the transition into kindergarten for families, communities, and teachers
- Promote higher on-time enrollment and attendance
- Foster early positive relationships between families and schools
- Establish benchmarks and standardized data collection for ongoing and accurate evaluation of each school’s progress
- Build capacity within the district by tailoring supports to schools and areas with the most need
- Increase supports from the community to align the work with children’s and families’ needs
How Does a District Develop a Plan?
Each school district and community has different strengths, resources, and needs. A successful district-wide transition to kindergarten plan has to be tailored to those unique characteristics. The following list is a guide for school district and community leaders to consider when developing their own plan.
Clear partnerships and roles
- Strong and broad partnerships with a diverse group of stakeholders
- Meaningful school-family-community partnerships
- Identification, prioritization, and outreach to priority populations (such as children not enrolled in pre-K)
- Influential champions for key issues
- Transition teams and coordinators
Strong program support
- Policies and practices that promote a smooth interface between pre-K or home and K
- Transition to kindergarten events, tools, and guidelines
- Teacher professional development on transition and family engagement
- Adequate and flexible funding
A focus on goals and accountability
- Clearly defined goals that are informed by research and best practice standards
- Student- and school-level assessments
- Accountability standards for principals
- Clear expectations and accountability of schools to the district
- District-driven focus on continuous quality improvement
- An inclusive and transparent process of simultaneous top-down and bottom-up change
Other Programs Working on District-Wide Transition
- Boston Countdown to Kindergarten
- Durham Partnerships for Children/Durham Public Schools (NC)
- Easton Area School District (PA)
- North Carolina Ready Schools Initiative (NC)
- Federal Way Public Schools (WA) Family and Community Partnership Office
- Hawaii Good Beginnings Council (HI)
- Hillsborough County (FL)
- Pottstown PEAK (PA)
- Philadelphia Public Schools (PA) Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement & Faith-Based Partnerships
- Sacramento Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project (CA)