As soon as we started looking into preK-3 efforts across Minnesota, it became clear that we had to visit Winona, where stakeholders have launched a community-wide “birth to grade 3” initiative (which I’ll refer to as “BG3” throughout this post). BG3 aims to unify the curriculum and readiness programs across all schools in the district—public, charter and private—with the goal that all Winona kids will be acclimated and academically proficient by the end of third grade.
BG3 launched just a few years ago, after Winona Area Public Schools Director of Community Education Margaret Schild and Rollingstone Community School Principal Marianne Texley brought their vision to the school board in 2011. Since its launch, BG3 has grown tremendously, bringing more educators and community partners on board, and expanding what was originally a preK-3 initiative. Although BG3 is relatively new—and its members recognize that they need to solidify how they're going to define and measure success and track student progress community-wide—we found some very unique and impressive strategies in place, and were blown away by the diversity and dedication of stakeholders at the table. Below are just a few highlights from Winona:
- Engaging childcare providers: Because of its commitment to serve kids starting at birth, BG3 knows that engaging and training daycare providers is vital, since their work can be—and oftentimes already is—very educational and foundational. Winona daycare providers are welcome to use a resource center that BG3 set up at Winona State University, in partnership with the school’s Children’s Center Director June Reineke. BG3 also organizes regular weekend get-togethers for providers to ask questions, socialize and share insights. “Childcare providers feel really important in this,” said Winona Community Education's Linda Jacobs, who provides training and networking opportunities for the area’s home childcare providers. Justin Green, board chair of the United Way of the Greater Winona Area—which has been an important partner in BG3’s work—stressed this, as well. “One of the focal points was to upgrade daycare providers” and help them introduce rigor, Justin explained. “I think some of the daycare providers were ready to do this but didn’t know how.”
- Transition form: In 2012, BG3 introduced a standardized, simple “transition form” that every outgoing Winona pre-K instructor or daycare provider will complete for each student entering kindergarten. This form helps kindergarten teachers anticipate student needs—for both interventions and enrichments—and helps pre-K teachers and homecare providers better understand what skills their kids should master in order to be kindergarten-ready.
- Community-wide focus: From day one, Marianne and Margaret have known that BG3 must serve all Winona kids, not just those in public schools. “It was really essential that we strive to serve all children, regardless of what system they go into,” Margaret said. That’s why BG3 brings everyone to the table: teachers from public, charter and private schools, parents, school board members, Early Childhood Family Education teachers, pre-K educators, daycare providers, university faculty, the local United Way and more. “Whose job is it? Well, it’s all of our jobs?” Marianne said, stressing that BG3 is truly a community-wide effort.
Even though the BG3 initiative is relatively young, there is a palpable energy around early childhood education in Winona. We’re excited to see what the community will accomplish in the coming years, and how our preK-3 report and subsequent work at the Capitol can enhance BG3’s efforts and replicate its best practices.
Check back soon for highlights from our other site visits, and be sure to keep an eye out for our preK-3 report this fall!