In South Seattle, one public school is quietly showing the power of connecting early learning and traditional elementary school with a preK-3rd system.
At South Shore K-8 School, pre-kindergarten in an integral part of the philosophy and building. In the school’s early education wing, preK classrooms run down one side and kindergarten classes the other, with a glass-walled transitions office anchoring both at the end of the hallway.
This integrated approach is getting results. The latest proof was in a report that showed students outperformed similar students at other schools on standardized tests — the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) and its successor, the Measurements of Student Progress — in math, reading and writing. The report, by EcoNorthwest for the League of Education Voters, said scores were particularly strong in math.
Perhaps the report’s most important finding was that students who started in preK or kindergarten scored even better than similar students at other schools, a finding that supports the idea that bridges between preK and the first four grades of elementary school can improve academic achievement. And this is not a single report showing South Shore’s preK focus is working. A 2010 report by the same group found similar results.
But, the most important lesson from South Shore School may be that progress in education is often a marathon of daily work, instead of a sprint-like turnaround inspired by new public policies.
At South Shore, taking the time to make connections with families is a high priority. Administrators and teachers meet with families before children ever enter the classroom. As South Shore Principal Keisha Scarlett said this week at an education-focused luncheon, when you reach the first-born, you change the whole family. Scarlett said the school is having an influence and making an impact even with the younger children who are still at home. Learning starts at birth, after all.
Educators, business leaders and policymakers have been working on the South Shore approach for more than two decades. They began with a new type of partnership that leveraged private financial support at now-shuttered public T.T. Minor Elementary in Seattle’s Central District, and hit their stride in what is now called South Shore K-8 School.
They created a preK-3rd model before the term was even invented, focusing on small classes, early family connections, and alignment of preK and K-3. Note: I wrote the report.
In the report, The Power of PreK-3rd: How a Small Foundation Helped Push Washington State to the Forefront of the PreK-3rd Movement, one former principal is quoted: “No matter what socioeconomic bracket you came from you received really high-quality preK-3rd instruction: smaller class sizes, kids read(ing) earlier than you see in more traditional schools, higher student-to-staff ratio. We could intervene even faster. South Shore was able to put preK-3rd on the map for Washington state and the nation.”
That was South Shore’s other leading role. It became a model school where legislators, school administrators and teachers could see the potential of a preK-3rd system. Thanks in part to this work and other model programs, including one in the Bremerton School District, Washington emerged as a national leader in preK-3rd, with pioneering programs around the state and progress in urban school districts, including Seattle, Everett and Highline.
The report is further proof that these models are working.
If you want to see South Shore in action, check out this video, PreK-3rd Grade: A New Beginning for American Education.