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Blog | | TKCalifornia, Alisal USD

TK Expansion in Action: Supporting Principal and Site Leadership Understanding of Young Learners’ Needs at Alisal USD

Our TK Expansion in Action blog 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 fifth blog in the series.

Principals and school site leadership play a critical role in shaping the culture and climate of a school. Accordingly, they also play a large part in ensuring the implementation of a successful Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program at their school site. While principals and site leadership have strong backgrounds in elementary education, many are still newer to TK and serving preschool-aged children on their campus. As TK expands and younger 4-year-olds are served at elementary schools, professional development is critical in helping to support site leadership to create a school culture that better understands and meets the needs of young children.

One school district that has had a long-time practice of leading professional development specifically geared towards its leadership is Alisal Union School District (AUSD), an elementary school district in Monterey County. For the past two and a half years, AUSD has hosted regular professional development trainings for its school principals. Dr. Susan Ratliff, Director of Early Learning Programs at AUSD, saw an opportunity in these professional development sessions to carve out time each month dedicated to Early Learning and child development. In these sessions, Dr. Ratliff works with principals and curriculum and instructional development coaches for TK to second grade to support the principals’ understanding of developmentally appropriate practices and settings for young learners. The meetings occur on a monthly basis and cover numerous topics related to early childhood education, such as child development, quality in a TK classroom, and the role of paraeducators. To encourage participation in these voluntary meetings, the AUSD superintendent attends as well. 

These professional development sessions not only increase the principals’ knowledge of Early Learning and child development, but by proxy also help support TK teachers as they set up their classrooms and develop activities. Many principals and leadership who are not used to seeing young children on their campuses are also not used to seeing the type of play-based learning with which younger children thrive. By creating deliberate trainings on these topics, principals better understand what developmentally appropriate practices should look like in TK classrooms, which thereby empower teachers to implement and uplift these practices. Dr. Ratliff shared, “one thing I try to ensure principals learn in these trainings is how to ask teachers questions about child development when they are observing a classroom. It’s a tangible action that helps ensure teachers can communicate what is happening and how children are learning, and it also increases the principal’s awareness of the intentionality behind play-based activities.”

As Local Educational Agencies continue to implement TK as it expands to serve all 4-year-olds, increasing site leadership knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices serves as a best practice. This increased knowledge at the leadership level will serve to support children, families, and teachers at the site which, in turn, will help support a successful TK expansion. Finding opportunities to embed professional development on Early Learning for school site leadership can go a long way in helping to build a high-quality TK program in a district.

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