Five-year roadmap goals prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten and beyond

The roadmap includes additional Pre-K seats to meet demand for early childhood education within the next five years.   -photo submitted

The roadmap includes additional Pre-K seats to meet demand for early childhood education within the next five years. -photo submitted

When traveling to destinations less familiar to us, we pull out a roadmap, electronically or in paper form. By following the correct route, we are less likely to take a wrong turn, go the wrong way, waste time or never arrive at our desired destination. The roadmap concept has been adopted to help ensure that the more than 9,300 four-year-olds in Davidson County receive equal and high-quality early education.

As with our travels, the arrival at some destinations take longer, but once there, the efforts prove to be worth the time invested. Such are the expectation of the five-year roadmap, “High-quality Start for All,” that was launched last week by Mayor Megan Barry, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and Nashville’s Early Childhood Education Working Group (Working Group). High-quality Start for All is the result of a review of the latest re- search, childcare regulations, peer-validated accreditation standards, city case studies, and best practices, and is aligned with a framework developed by the Tennessee Department of Education to increase quality of Pre-K throughout the state.

“This roadmap will make a difference for years to come for thousands of Nashville and Davidson County’s children, who need and deserve the best start possible so they can succeed in school and thrive as adults,” Mayor Barry said.

Nashville’s booming economy has brought rapid population growth with more than 100 people moving to the region every day for work, study and quality of life. Growth means increased need for early learning opportunities and increased expectations that Nashville public schools, Head Start programs and community childcare sites must prepare every child for kindergarten. According to research conducted in Nashville, across the state and nationally, shows that uneven availability of quality early learning experiences means that too many children are unprepared for school and too many parents are unsure of what quality looks like.

Therefore, last January Mayor Barry brought together leaders from the city’s and state’s early childhood community to develop a roadmap to ensure a high-quality early education opportunity for all young children and to prepare every 4-year-old in Davidson County for success in school and life. Her charge to the Nashville Early Childhood Education Working Group was framed in three questions: How should Nashville be thinking about quality and effectiveness across all early learning programs? What are the best ways to engage Nashville families as early learning partners? How can Nashville’s early childhood programs work together differently to reduce barriers and generate greater impact from available resources? The Working Group agreed that the quality definition would apply to all Nashville Pre-K programs, whether run by Metro Nashville Public Schools, Head Start, or community providers. It includes a set of 10 program standards and 10 instructional standards that when implemented, 4-year-olds are better prepared for school.

Research shows that the program quality standards, which include actively recruiting families through coordinated outreach efforts, prioritizing daily attendance, and supporting teachers’ focus on listening to children and being more responsive to their needs, puts children on firm footing for school success.

The instructional quality standards, which are based on local research conducted by the Tennessee Department of Education with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute, include an intentional focus on oral language and literacy development and maximizing instructional time, and reflect instruction and classroom management practices that ensure accelerated cognitive and academic gains for children.

The final standard focuses on alignment between Pre-K and the early elementary grades to ensure that educators better understand student strengths and needs when they enter kindergarten and provide them with the tailored supports they need to do well in the early grades.

Dr. Dale Farran, Vanderbilt professor, director of the Peabody Research Institute, and member of the Working Group, stated that “Nashville has taken a significant step by articulating not only a set of shared expectations for how we best support young children, but also the role that all of us must play moving forward to meet those expectations.”

“It will take the entire city working together to ensure that we set up our youngest learners for a future that will exceed great expectations,” said Joseph.

An ongoing governance committee will be created to oversee implementation and tracking outcomes.