Monday, Apr. 30th 2018

Celebrating those who help make successful that transition to kindergarten

By Edward Condon, R9HSA Executive Director


No matter your industry or profession, you can find dozens of books on leadership styles and practices. Then there are stand-out works such as Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” or the grand-daddy of the genre, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” All basically drive to this point: A good leader makes good things happen.

When we consider what makes Head Start across our nation successful—we naturally look inward at our teachers, administrators and the engagement of parents. But there are other people involved who are outside of Head Start, and they play a vital role in how well Head Start families do. These are the leaders of elementary schools—the next waypoint in the lives of Head Start children.

Spring is typically the time when Head Start children are introduced to their kindergarten teacher and classroom, when they are prepared for the transition into elementary school. How well this orientation is shaped, how effective is the transition is hugely dependent upon the cooperation and collaboration with the leaders of the elementary school—the principals and superintendents.

In fact, a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that the most effective leaders in a district are those that focus more on culture than curriculum. For Head Start children transitioning to kindergarten, that’s the heart of the matter—being received by a welcoming culture.

I’m sure we all can remember our child’s entry into kindergarten—or even our own first day: A time mixed with equal parts of excitement and anxiety. With children from economically distressed families, success in elementary school is even that much more vital, so starting off on the right foot is critical.

“When children experience discontinuities between preschool and kindergarten, they may be at greater risk for academic failure and social adjustment problems,” according to The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning—part of the national Office of Head Start. “Thus, building and implementing a seamless kindergarten transition can make a significant difference for children’s early education experience.”

So, what’s needed to make the transition successful? For that, I recently had a conversation with former elementary school principal and associate superintendent L. Steven Winlock, Ed.D., who is now the executive director for leadership training at the Sacramento County Office of Education. He trains teachers to be principals and principals to be superintendents.

His operating philosophy is this: “We always saw Head Start as an integral part of the education of the whole child. It is a foundation for the beginning of the educational journey.”

Summarized below are Winlock’s point-of-view on how an elementary school leader can nurture a welcoming culture for Head Start children and parents:

“As an associate superintendent for elementary schools, one of the things I did was making sure that teachers of kindergarten and pre-schools were working with Head Start teachers so that there was dialogue between them about where the Head Start children were educationally—to understand the connecting between the Head Start program and the elementary school. I worked with principals to help them understand that Head Start was not a program outside our organization, it was part of our work. I made sure that Head Start children had visitations to the kindergarten program to see it—and not just one time—to take part in kindergarten classes so they would know the place they were going to be in—to be able to understand what is next. Head Start to kindergarten is an important transition—just like kindergarten to first grade, third grade to fourth grade, sixth grade to junior high and junior high to high school. And for any transition, you have to have staff involved.

“When I was a principal and assistant superintendent, we also had to look at how to help parents become part of the K-12 system. This is an important piece to me. I did my doctorate on parent involvement. So, I worked with parents at the very foundational state—which for some of them was in Head Start. It’s important to build parental involvement for the child’s entire educational career. So Head Start is a great opportunity to get parents involved—to show them what the need to do to assist their child. We started with Head Start—we didn’t wait until children came into kindergarten. We would show teachers how to embrace the parents, to have parents become partners with their children in educating them. We included Head Start parents in school activities, such as in parents’ night. I work now with principals to understand that. You don’t let pre-school and Head Start operate on their own. Principals need to be involved at that level.

“I remember on my campus many times welcoming parents when they first came into the Head Start program, at a group orientation, that helped them see the big picture. I was always part of the introduction—making sure that I made that contact with them and to let them know I would be involved in and out of their child’s education. We made sure parents coming into Head Start understood that this is the beginning, that Head Start is the foundation for their child’s whole educational career.”

Winlock’s vision and concrete actions as principal and superintendent—and now an executive director—underscore my main point: A good leader makes good things happen. And in celebration of Head Start’s annual anniversary—May 18—I would like to call attention to what a number of principals and superintendents across the West who are doing to provide quality leadership in the important Head Start to kindergarten transition.

These professionals are “Everyday Champions” of Head Start, and you can read more about them individually here. Below, are some of their best practices:

  • Foster collaborations between Head Start and elementary school teachers.
  • Encourage parent engagement, creating a welcoming learning environment that is family-focused.
  • Promote transition planning that is inclusive of all families.
  • Establish regular collaboration meetings at the site level.
  • Offer professional development to all staff to create continuity in curriculum and instructional approaches.
  • Explore the unique needs of the community that impacts both programs—such as transportation, teacher recruitment and health services.
  • Identify cost-savings on program administration, facilities and supplies.
  • Visit each other’s facilities.
  • Host parent discussions for new families on topics such as school safety and attendance.
  • Celebrate together shared values and community traditions.
  • Create advisory boards and links to governing boards.
  • Advance a welcoming and loving atmosphere for ALL.

Beyond calling attention to elementary school leaders who are helping advance Head Start’s goals, Head Start teachers and managers have a wonderful opportunity to rejoice in their students’ transition to kindergarten. Tours by Head Start children of their new campus and classrooms are among those good things happening right now—and are also worth celebrating!

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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.

The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.
  • Provide resources to assist our members in compliance and professional development.

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