Why Understanding A Student's Preschool Life May Be Key To Raising LAUSD Graduation Rates

LAUSD Early Education Executive Director Dr. Dean Tagawa finished his Birth To Eight Roadmap presentation by reading from Dr. Seuss's classic "Oh, The Places You'll Go." Yes, that is a miniature Dr. Tagawa in the hot air balloon. (Mariana Dale/KPCC/LAist)

Almost 31,000 children attend some kind of early childhood program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, but that system isn't well connected to the district's elementary and high schools. That means it's hard for teachers to understand a student's background and where they need help when they enter K-12 schools.

Now the district has a strategic plan to change that.

LAUSD's Birth to Eight Roadmap recommends new teaching methods, data collection and working with parents to help preschool students prepare for kindergarten, then learn to read by third grade and eventually graduate from high school on time.

"Too many of our students don't have access to early learning," LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said at a press conference on Wednesday. "That big disconnect is what we're here to solve and to tie that opportunity to the rest of their journey here with us in schools."

Here are a few examples of what the district hopes to do:

CONNECT EARLY EDUCATION AND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DATA

Right now, if an LAUSD kindergartener has also attended a district pre-school, it's difficult for their kindergarten teacher to see information about their preschool attendance or academic development.

The data for early education and K-12 students live in two different systems.

"The two systems don't necessarily always talk to each other," said Dr. Dean Tagawa, executive director of LAUSD's Early Childhood Education Division. He said a new system to improve data sharing should be up and running by fall 2020.

NEW PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR TEACHERS

Research shows Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE's, such as abuse or neglect can increase a kid's risk for developing mental health, substance abuse, or other health issues as an adult.

LAUSD wants early childhood teachers to be better trained to recognize the symptoms and help kids who may be grappling with ACE's.

Lisette Sepulveda helps LAUSD early education teachers develop lessons that respond to each student's needs. "It's looking at what they know already and what they come in with and then working with where we want to take them." (Mariana Dale/KPCC/LAist)

"They come in with their little baggage. Before we get to the academic, we have to address their needs that way," said Lisette Sepulveda, who coaches early education teachers in the district.

She's excited the roadmap promises more resources for the teachers she works with.

"Oftentimes we are overlooked a bit as early childhood educators and the work that we do, but it really is fundamental to the success of our children," she said.

Several of the initiatives, including professional development to address trauma, rely on outside partnerships. For example, UCLA will start working with LAUSD teachers in January. Another organization, Child360, provides coaching for LAUSD teachers.

WHEN DID THIS EFFORT START

The LAUSD Board of Education approved the creation of the roadmap in February 2018. More than 50 people from the district and outside organizations met to craft the plan over several months.

The roadmap ties to a larger goal of 100% of students graduating on time.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner shared that One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is one of his favorite books. (Mariana Dale/KPCC/LAist)

An estimated 78% of LAUSD seniors earned their diploma on time last year.

The roadmap is the first of its kind in the district, but follows similar initiatives in Denver and Detroit.

Tagawa says the district will fund the plan from the existing $94 million it devotes to early education programs.

LAUSD Board Member Kelly Gonez said she'll push for more financial support from the state.

"I think we all want to do more in the early childhood space, but it does take the resources to provide quality programs," she said. "Yes, we humbly and eagerly ask the governor for more money."

For educators like Sepulveda, part of the benefit is the mere existence of a comprehensive plan.

"We would get information from everywhere and now it's all consistent, in one document where we can address different needs just from one place," she said.