Our new series covers California’s Transitional Kindergarten (TK) expansion in the 2022-23 school year through interviews with districts across the state to highlight strategies they have employed to make expansion successful. This is the third blog in the series.
As Local Education Agencies (LEAs) across the state are in the midst of expanding Transitional Kindergarten (TK) to serve all four-year-olds, many districts are also grappling with the challenge of ensuring that all of their lead TK teachers have both a Multiple Subject Credential and 24 units of Early Childhood Education and/or Child Development (ECE/CD) by the time the TK educator requirements go into effect on August 1, 2023 (as required in California Education Code, Section 48000). School districts are getting creative to meet this fast approaching deadline and developing partnerships with their local institutions of higher education. One such district is Saugus Union School District (SUSD), an elementary school district nestled in the Santa Clarita Valley. Administrators within SUSD reached out to the local community college, College of the Canyons (COC), with hopes of supporting their credentialed teachers in achieving the necessary ECE/CD units to be lead TK teachers. Now, a cohort of nineteen teachers are enrolled in a new COC program that will ensure they each have the 24 ECE/CD units needed to be a lead TK teacher by the end of this school year.
It all started with the identification of a potential problem. The deadline for teachers to meet the TK teaching requirements is fast approaching and, simultaneously, SUSD’s need for more TK teachers was increasing due to the expansion of TK. Before reaching out to COC, SUSD administrators set out to identify how many of their teachers currently held a Child Development Permit or 24 units of ECE/CD. They surveyed their teachers to find out who held these units and if there was any interest from teachers to participate in an accelerated program to achieve them. The survey also inquired about whether their interest would change if the district funded the cost of the tuition. SUSD explored how they could cover the cost of tuition for teachers obtaining these units. Once they had interest from their teachers to participate in this program, they committed to reimbursing them for the total cost of the tuition. SUSD applied for the Universal Prekindergarten Planning and Implementation Grant, which was included in the 2021-22 State Budget, and are using those funds to cover the tuition costs.
With dozens of teachers expressing potential interest in obtaining the 24 ECE/CD units, SUSD reached out to COC to seek support. Jennifer Paris, a faculty member of the Early Childhood Education Department at COC, played a key role in developing the program structure and emphasis of the courses. The accelerated program is structured as a cohort model and includes 9 classes over 5 week sessions that are taking place between Summer 2022 through Spring 2023. The classes are facilitated online asynchronously which allows the teachers going through the program to choose the time that works best with their own schedules to complete coursework. Paris shared that when designing the program, the department wanted to be very intentional about the Early Learning competencies included in the coursework to ensure it would provide a strong Early Learning foundation for educators working in TK settings and serving younger four-year-olds. Paris explained, “We saw this as an opportunity to shape what TK looks like in the Santa Clarita Valley and are taking that responsibility as seriously as we could.” Accordingly, the courses focus on holistic development, equity and diversity, the role of observation, curriculum planning, special education and inclusion, and family engagement.
The cohort model was also intentionally designed to help build a learning community for the educators going through this program together. Pete Bland, Director of Personnel at SUSD, noted that the teachers who enrolled in COC’s program are juggling a full-time teaching position, their coursework, and outside commitments to family which can be challenging to balance. “An added benefit of the design of the program is the cohort model structure,” Bland shared. “The teachers in the program are balancing a lot, and the cohort model provides an outlet for connection and support while in these classes, but also is creating a longer-term professional network for them to turn to throughout their teaching career.” Additionally, there are a few teachers from other school districts participating in the cohort, which only increases the breadth of the professional network.
While still brand new, SUSD is already thinking about the potential for the future of this program and partnership. As with any new program, there are opportunities to fine-tune and improve, but Dr. Carin Fractor, the Director of Categorical and Special Programs at SUSD, elaborated about the importance of the partnership with COC and the district’s hopes for strengthening this program and pathway for its teachers. Dr. Fractor expressed that she hopes that if they pursue implementing this program in future years that it continues to be, “attainable and doable for the working professional.”
SUSD’s and COC’s partnership serves as an example of how California school districts, big and small, can partner with higher education institutions to support teachers for universal TK.