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FUESD lowers age for Pre-K students in Fallbrook schools

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

The minimum age for students in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District is decreasing. The state has issued guidelines for the youngest age for students to enter pre-kindergarten and it's lowered each year. In 2025-26, the age drops to four.

Dr. Lea Curcio, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, presented a report by the FUESD Universal Pre-Kindergarten Plan at the board meeting on June 21.

She said the district began its Transitional Kindergarten program 10 years ago for children who do not have access to high-quality early learning experiences prior to kindergarten.

"We're so well prepared," Curcio told the board, saying the district has been embracing a similar vision.

The district's Universal Pre-Kindergarten Plan provides access to full-day learning programs in the year before kindergarten through the offering of transitional kindergarten.

"We currently offer a robust pre-kindergarten program," the report states.

"FUESD recognizes decades of research that demonstrate an early and strong foundation for learning matters," she noted. "Children who have effective learning opportunities before kindergarten have an advantage in school and in life over children who do not, especially children with adverse childhood experiences. Children who attend quality preschool programs are more prepared for school in terms of their early literacy, language, and math skills, their executive function, and social-emotional development."

In some cases, preschool participants are less likely to be identified for special education services or to be held back in elementary school than children who do not attend developmentally-informed preschool programs that include strong educational components.

"It gives students a tremendous foundation," Curcio told the board. "It benefits students greatly."

She cited vocabulary gain and school readiness as examples.

"There are so many benefits and we're glad to be able to expand for younger students," she said.

The district offers transitional kindergarten at six of its nine elementary schools, as well as a centralized preschool program at the Mike Choate Early Childhood Center.

The Choate Center features four California State Preschool Program classrooms and two special education preschool classrooms. The program model supports the inclusion of all participating children in a variety of weekly, cross-classroom integrated activities. The program provides subsidized part-day services for eligible youth 3 and 4 years old without regard to race, color, national origin, creed, religion, gender, disability or handicap.

Curcio said the district gathered information and data from the local preschool programs and FUESD parents and staff to prepare for the expansion of the PK program and address the shifts needed to educate 4-year-olds.

FUESD currently partners with the San Diego County Office of Education's Early Childhood Learning Division, participates in the Fallbrook Early Childhood Education Collaborative, and works closely with local state-funded preschools.

"We acknowledge community cultivating relationships and collaborating with local providers," Curcio said.

The administrator said TK offerings are made available to families who wish to opt-in, and if space is limited due to demand, priority is given to families and students who demonstrate the greatest need (unduplicated student populations).

Curcio said the district is dedicated to hiring highly-skilled, qualified staff.

"To ensure quality instruction in the early childhood programs, we also offer ongoing professional development to meet the needs of our staff. While FUESD's current transitional kindergarten staff and CSPP staff meet all the EC section credential requirements, we have created a plan to recruit, train, and support our TK, preschool, early learning, and expanded learning staff," she said.

FUESD requires the appropriate credentials of all pre-kindergarten program teachers. To support diverse and effective prospective TK teachers and to address the teacher workforce shortage, FUESD has entered into partnerships with California State University San Marcos, the University of La Verne, and San Diego County Office of Education.

The district currently offers English-only instruction in its pre-kindergarten classes with home-language support as needed. Curcio said in the 2022-23 school year, it will be offering a Spanish-English dual language program with a language allotment of 50/50 for TK.

"Our programs are focused on providing developmentally-appropriate learning environments that allow for individual and group activities that promote social-emotional learning and executive functioning skills through the use of routines and strategies that support students such as daily routines, visual feelings charts, and use of students' pictures," the report states. "We also promote learning through play as a context for social and emotional, language and literacy, and cognitive development. Students are provided with self-directed learning that fosters individual interest, curiosity, and new learning."

The district uses common curriculum resources and implements Universal Design for Learning to support students' individual learning needs, including students with disabilities. To ensure developmentally appropriate instruction is delivered, the district provides classroom assistants. Classroom teachers follow an annual scope and sequence and develop weekly lesson plans that include social and emotional development, language and literacy development, English language development, cognitive (math, logic reasoning, science) visual and performing arts, history-social science, physical development and health.

There was no action taken by the board on the informational report.

In other business, the board unanimously approved the Local Control Accountability Plan and adopted the 2022-23 budget. Both items were previously presented to the board and there was no discussion by board members at the meeting.

The next board meeting is on July 18 at 6 p.m.


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