Hillsborough County Public Schools is serving as a national leader for Early Learning in our work preparing our youngest students for life. Superintendents and district leaders from across the country recently visited our district as part of the 3-day AASA, The School Superintendents Association, Early Learning Cohort.
Participants boarded a bus to visit Potter Elementary and Dover Elementary to see some of our schools’ best practices in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten.
“On a national scale, they’re recognizing that our children are making huge progress,” said Dover Elementary School Principal Gina Becker.
“They’re seeing a national model of what we’re trying to do, not only in Hillsborough County Public Schools, but all over our community, with regards to having our students prepared for Kindergarten,” said Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins.
Superintendent Eakins says building a collaborative effort to address the needs of our young learners creates positive learning environments for these students, particularly those who need our help the most.
Leaders looked at strategies being used at Potter and Dover to implement changes in schools in their own districts.
“Just good teaching practices, engagement with students. We know early learning is very important,” said Dr. Sharon Pepukayi, Assistant Superintendent of Appoquinimink School District in Middletown, Delaware. “I like the way the objectives are posted, how it’s student friendly: ‘I can xyz. I know I’m successful when I xyz.’ I think that success criteria’s imperative, because ultimately we want students to know when they’re being successful,” said Dr. Pepukayi.
“Those early childhood best practices that we all so badly are looking for and just seeing a school that’s really embraced that. You have a superintendent here that has embraced it – just to get those ideas,” said Dr. Summer Schultz, Superintendent of Dell Rapids School District in Dell Rapids, South Dakota.
This year, our district has seen an increase in the number of students who started kindergarten ready to learn. Superintendent Eakins credits community collaboration and partners who help build a network of support for students and families.
“Any of these things where we’re seeing where communities are coming together to figure out how they embrace the early learners to see success in them later on – is what I’m hoping to take away from this,” said Dr. Schultz.
“You’re quadruple our size, however, I still think there’s great nuggets we can take away to take back and implement tomorrow,” said Dr. Pepukayi.
“We’re working hard at it. It’s good to see validation from AASA and their participants,” said Superintendent Eakins.
Leaders observed teachers in action working on phonics, reading to students and talking about the meaning behind the books. Students also used computers to work on skills independently.
“I was just in a kindergarten classroom, where a student wrote two pages about a book. There are some really good things going on. Those intentional practices seem to really be working,” said Dr. Schultz.
“They were able to see Ms. Herdon – the Regional Head Start Teacher of the Year here in Hillsborough County at Potter Elementary,” said Superintendent Eakins.
“They were also able to see how we leverage technology through our partnership with Waterford,” Superintendent Eakins said.
Principal Becker explained that Waterford, a technology-based early learning program, meets students at their own skill level and moves at a child’s individualized pace.
“We are a national model for Waterford,” said Principal Becker. “That speaks very highly that our teachers are using this program consistently. Our children are using this program consistently and making huge gains – and it’s been noted nationally.”
Districts across the country continue to work to develop successful models for early learning. AASA leaders said the Early Learning Cohort’s visit to Hillsborough Schools was a chance to work with innovators and risk takers who are passionate about that work.
“As we strive to create equal accessibility for all students, improving teaching and learning in the early years is a critical step in that direction,” said Mort Sherman, AASA Associate Executive Director, Leadership Network.
“Every child deserves a teacher that says they can do it! There’s no excuses,” said Principal Becker.
“I’m so proud of our teachers. They do such great work with our kids,” said Superintendent Eakins. “And ultimately I’m proud of our kids!”