Educating the educators

Educators from several state school districts got an education in early learning from some leaders in the field this week.

Educators from several state school districts got an education in early learning from some leaders in the field this week.

“When they walk out of here, they’ll have a toolbox almost too heavy to carry,” Bremerton School District spokeswoman Patty Glaser said.

Representatives from Chief Leschi, Selah, Sumner and Willapa Valley school districts got a lesson in early learning Tuesday and Wednesday from BSD officials. BSD received a two-year, $369,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to share their early learning program success and teach other districts how to boost their programs.

“They recognized the work the Bremerton School District was doing,” said Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, BSD’s director of special programs.

“We sought out this grant with Bremerton because they are the best in this field, especially at getting their message out to other districts,” added Jodi Haavig, the early learning program officer for the Gates Foundation.

Sullivan-Dudzic said BSD was “inundated” with school districts wanting to attend a training session and this week’s session was the second one of the school year.

BSD’s early learning program is recognized as one of the best in the state because of its multi-pronged approach. The district has its own preschool and partners with Head Start to offer daycare. It also works with private preschools and day cares, providing them reading curriculum and advice on how to develop children’s early literacy skills.

BSD also offers full-day kindergarten and Sullivan-Dudzic said both full-day kindergarten and quality preschools are crucial to early learning.

BSD has its highest number of kindergartners ever this year and 67 percent of those children came to kindergarten already knowing letters and other basic literacy skills.

“What a difference quality preschools make,” Sullivan-Dudzic said.

BSD continues to build on skills learned in preschool and kindergarten throughout elementary school. Sullivan-Dudzic said this focus on early learning helps keep children out of special education and remedial classes, which saves the district money.

“If you start strong, you stay strong and it’s part of our strategic plan,” Sullivan-Dudzic said.

Haavig said the Gates Foundation wants school districts to use aspects of BSD’s early learning program to better their own programs and get everyone from the superintendent level down involved.

“We’re not interested in having the cookie-cutter Bremerton model all across the state,” she said.

BSD plans to host more training sessions throughout the school year.

“We take great pride in what we’re doing for the children and to share our story is wonderful,” Sullivan-Dudzic said.