By JOHN PURCELL
Reorder News Staff
The Greater Amsterdam School District received generally a positive review for its pre-kindergarten programming, but the district has taken steps to make improvements in areas state auditors identified.
The state Education Department annually reviews pre-kindergarten programs in school districts, and provides feedback on positive practices, required corrective actions for compliance with regulations, and suggestions for program improvements.
GASD Elementary Instruction Director Robert Mark said the state audit for the 2016-17 school year essentially outlined two actions required for the district to comply with regulations.
The district must implement the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), which allows for the evaluation of program strengths and weaknesses. Implementing the ECERS will allow for program improvements that will increase quality, according to the state audit.
Mark said the district did not have a formal scale for measuring the learning environment, but the ECERS has since been implemented to comply with regulations. The district had been using it’s own system for monitoring programs and conducting annual teacher performance reviews.
“It will add another dimension to what we do to make sure programs are the best they can be,” Mark said.
The second required improvement involves an explicit written policy that addresses how pre-kindergarten student data would not be used to prohibit or discourage enrolling a child in kindergarten. The state wasn’t implying this has occurred, but rather the district needed an explicit written policy.
“Who would discourage children from coming to kindergarten? It never crossed our minds, but we’ll make the modification to be in keeping with their requirement,” Mark said.
Outside of the required actions for program compliance, there were additional recommendations to improve program quality.
State auditors said much of the documented professional development focuses on curriculum writing and alignment. The auditors recommended seeking professional development about “best practices in early childhood education, such as center-based and student-initiated learning.”
Mark said a consultant was brought in during a staff development day to provide training on the recommended focus areas.
Another recommendation was to focus on developing higher order thinking and evidence-based instruction for students. Mark said this would allow for students to be more mentally engaged and provide opportunities for students to grow in a somewhat less structured environment.
One of the “promising practices” identified in the audit was teacher and students interactions were “positive and nurturing,” which allowed children to be comfortable in the classroom. Another positive element was continued work to align with the Pre-kindergarten Foundation for the Common Core.
The district was also found to have an enhanced level of effort implementing appropriate modifications and support to ensure children who are English Language Learners are provided equal access to the program.
Mark said the state does not require the English Language Learners services to be in place during pre-kindergarten, but the district has made an effort to hire more bilingual staff and provide more tools for learning.
When Mark joined the district nine years ago, it had one pre-kindergarten grant with programs in three buildings, along with outside partnerships. He has since been able to acquire two additional grants and maintain the original grant, which has allowed the district to expand its programming to 3 year olds and switch from half day to full day programs.
“With that switch to full day, we’ve been able to put a lot of effort into expanding the program,” Mark said. “We don’t want to see the same outcomes for students that were in half-day program as we do for a full-day program. They should be making more gains and improving across the board.”
Mark said the full-day program is more enriching for students and there are opportunities for additional supports, such as physical education and art. He said subject specialists come into the school to teach these additional areas.