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Kindergarten readiness key in building educational foundation

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Column by Nannette Johnston

By Nannette Johnston

A house is only as strong as the foundation upon which it is built. The same is true with us and our education.

We build everything upon the fundamental basics we learn in kindergarten. We learn our colors, we learn to read and write. We learn simple math, scientific and social skills. The colors a fashion designer works with today were discovered in kindergarten. The studying a scientific researcher does today is based on the reading skills he or she learned in kindergarten. The math skills a chemist uses today are built upon that chart of numbers in his or her kindergarten classroom.

Author Robert Flughum wrote a poem called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” That is so very true.

Hardin County Schools uses a one-child-at-a-time approach. We focus on a student’s individual learning style and we meet them where they are in their capacity to learn. We know this approach is successful and we are seeing the benefits of it across the district.

While we do meet students where they are, our new core standards say all students must be at the same point by the end of their academic career. So, sometimes we have to press on the gas a little more to help a student meet the standards.

The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and the Kentucky Department of Education are offering a kindergarten readiness screener, an assessment system, which will help us meet students in their educational paths very early. The screener will provide rich information to teachers so they can quickly create strategies for each child within the first month of school.

We were honored to have Heartland Elementary School and North Park Elementary School serve as a pilot program for the kindergarten screener this year. The kindergarten teachers at those schools have shared that the information the screener provides is invaluable. In fact, they will lead training for all of our district’s kindergarten teachers and elementary school leaders in the late spring or early summer of 2013. Then, all our kindergarten teachers will start their years with a box full of essential tools for each individual student.

The screener helps teachers start the process of helping students hit proficiency marks in reading earlier. It also provides valuable information about developmental experiences a child has had prior to entering kindergarten, such as preschool, childcare, Head Start and early intervention services.

It also will help us and educators across the state evaluate and continuously improve our public investment in early childhood programs. The data gathered from the screener will provide critical information to communities to help them evaluate their efforts to ensure all children come to school with the foundation necessary to be successful. Data from the screener, along with other early childhood data, will reinforce that public funding for early childhood and elementary school makes a difference.

I am passionate about early childhood education. Its importance cannot be overstated. The brain grows more rapidly in the first 3 to 5 years of life than at any other time. Research shows the significance of high-quality early childhood education. If children who need extra help are identified early, the chances that they will need special education services in the future are lessened.

It has often been said that you can’t monitor what you don’t measure. This kindergarten screener is a wonderful measurement system we can use to monitor a child’s progress in the first steps on the educational path of life.

Nannette Johnston is superintendent of Hardin County Schools.