First 10 Blog

Five Communities to Watch


Massachusetts Birth-Third Alignment Partnerships

Over time the Birth-Third Learning Hub aspires to examine the broad range of efforts underway in Massachusetts to improve outcomes for young children. Five communities in particular provide an important stream of information and experience regarding Birth-Third strategies. Boston, Lowell, Pittsfield, Somerville, and Springfield received Birth through Grade Three Alignment Partnership grants in 2012 from the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to deepen their early years work. Additional grants for a second round of Alignment Partnerships will be announced in March. Cambridge Education is documenting  the original five partnerships for the EEC, and this blog is part of an effort to share the experiences the five partnerships have had thus far.

Funded by the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top -Early Learning Challenge program, the EEC has awarded each of these communities $100,000 grants for each of two years. (In Boston, the Boston Public Schools and the city’s community-based preschool collaborative, Thrive in Five, both were awarded $100,000 grants for a combined initiative that also includes philanthropic investment.)

Each community has formed a Birth through Grade Three Alignment Partnership composed of community-based preschool providers, a school district, each community’s Community Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) grantee, each community’s Educator and Provider Support grantee, and other organizations. Three partnerships are led by school districts (Boston, Lowell, and Somerville), one by the local United Way (Pittsfield), and one by a preschool organization (Springfield).

These five communities are especially good candidates for learning about implementation efforts. Building on previous foundational work, they are implementing a diverse range of promising strategies, and they vary in terms of community size and stage of project development.

Community District Enrollment % Low-Income Lead Organization Primary Use of Funds
Boston 55,114 71.7% Boston Public Schools/Thrive in Five Coach/
Lowell 13,879 75% Lowell Public Schools Consultant/Coaches
Pittsfield 5,987 56.5% Berkshire United Way Coordinator
Somerville 4,922 69.2% Somerville Public Schools Coordinator
Springfield 25,283 87.5% Square One (CB Provider) Coordinator/Consultant

Project Strategies. As described further below and in subsequent posts, the communities’ strategies differ both in terms of how developed they were at the onset of the grant and whether the thrust of their work is targeted on specific classrooms, preschool centers, and schools, or aimed more broadly at the community level. Boston and Pittsfield are building on previously established initiatives and thus began the grant with relatively well-developed strategies in place. Boston’s project targets 14 community-based classrooms; Pittsfield is implementing a city-wide (and increasingly county-wide) strategic plan.  Lowell, Somerville, and Springfield, while building on past efforts, have formed new leadership groups and developed new strategies during the grant process, strategies with both targeted and community-wide prongs.

Here are brief descriptions of each community’s strategy. Future posts will explore each community’s work and cross-cutting patterns in more depth (in alphabetical order).

Mather SchoolBoston. The Boston Public Schools (BPS) and Thrive in Five are supporting 14 community-based preschool classrooms in implementing the BPS pre-kindergarten model. This model includes literacy and math curricula, professional development, coaching, and additional compensation for most of the participating teachers. Rigorous internal and external evaluations have found that Boston’s pre-kindergarten model has led to growth in language, math, executive function, and self-regulation skills. The BPS pre-kindergarten model has received national attention due to the size of the child outcomes, the scale of implementation (2,300 students), and the impact on multiple domains (Evidence Base on Preschool Education). BPS is committed to supporting the implementation of its pre-kindergarten model in additional community-based classrooms if this pilot study yields outcomes comparable to those in BPS classrooms. EEC funding is supporting a coach and professional development for each site and is supplemented by philanthropic funding.

Lowell. In Lowell, the CFCE, led by the early childhood department of the school district, is targeting two low-income neighborhoods, each of which includes a participating school, a preschool center, and family childcare providers. The alignment leadership team is focused on improving quality through the QRIS process, school readiness, formative assessment, and family engagement. The project supports communities of practice for center-based staff and family childcare providers, the use of CLASS observations in schools and preschool classrooms to inform center and school improvement priorities, and training in Teaching Strategies Gold. Through its initial alignment discussions, the Lowell partnership identified school readiness as an important issue and has begun additional work developing a school readiness definition and action plan for the broader community. Lowell has hired Early Childhood associates as a consultant to support the design and implementation of its strategy.

IMG_2684Pittsfield. In 2012, community leaders in Pittsfield committed to the Pittsfield Promise, a community initiative to achieve a single goal: “By 2020, 90% of Pittsfield students will achieve reading proficiency as demonstrated by 3rd grade standardized tests.” Berkshire United Way serves as “backbone” organization, and the Pittsfield Promise has the support of a broad range of community institutions, including the local hospital, library, museum, and newspaper. The community has developed a strategic plan based on five strategies that are being developed and carried out through a network of six committees. The EEC grant supports a coordinator, a staff member of Berkshire United Way, to support and align the work of these committees around the following priorities: family engagement (including a city-wide literacy campaign and home visiting), preschool participation, quality and alignment, and out-of-school time.

Members of the Somerville Kindergarten Readiness Group in small group discussion.

Somerville. Building on a history of strong support for families, the Somerville Public Schools formed a new alignment leadership group to guide the work of the EEC grant and hired a full-time project coordinator. Somerville’s leadership team has developed a strategy that has four main components:

  • A Kindergarten Readiness Group composed of community-based preschool teachers and leaders and public school kindergarten teachers that is focused on aligning EEC and Common Core standards and using developmentally-appropriate practice to meet standards.
  • Literacy coaching using the ELLCO as an observational tool for 8 preschool classrooms (2 Head Start classrooms, 2 public school, and 4 community-based). Lead teachers and their co-teachers are participating in coaching and whole-group activities. The Alignment Partnership is also offering a language and literacy full-day workshop plus two follow-up mentoring sessions to an additional 20 teachers.
  • Training in Teaching Strategies Gold for community-based preschool teachers.
  • A new online resource for families with young children and outreach by community organizations teaching adults how to use it.

Springfield. The Springfield Alignment Partnership, led by Square One, a community-based preschool provider, builds on a history of collaboration between the school district and the preschool community as well as on the Davis Foundation’s Read! Reading Success by Fourth Grade initiative. Its leadership steering committee has hired a staff person at Square One to coordinate the work with the help of an outside consultant. Springfield’s project is organized around three broad strategies: Curricular and Assessment Alignment, Teacher and Adult Caregiver Capacity/Quality, and Data Use and Strategic Planning. Planned activities include selecting and/or developing an early education curriculum for the community and identifying standards to focus on across public and private settings, including common developmental domains in Teaching Strategies Gold and shared social-emotional standards. The partnership will then provide professional development and outreach around these domains and standards, identify common formative assessments to use across preschool settings, expand teacher-to-teacher observations, and share kindergarten assessment data with pre-kindergarten providers. Springfield has re-instituted monthly “PLCs” of community-based and public preschool and kindergarten teachers that participate in shared professional development and conduct cross-site classroom observations.

This post was completed as part of a contract between the MA Department of Early Education and Care and Cambridge Education (where David Jacobson worked at the time). Contract # CT EEC 0900 FY13SRF130109CAMBRID.