Achieve Escambia Seeks 60 Percent Kindergarten Readiness By 2020

Sep 26, 2018

Archive photo of kindergarten students in the Escambia County School District.
Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media

Achieve Escambia recently released its 2018 report card and set some audacious community goals for improvement, beginning with school readiness.

From cradle to career, Achieve Escambia focuses on the 91,000 children, youth and young adults that live in Escambia County. Key indicators such as low birth rate, child health, and well-being and socio-economics, show many are disadvantaged from the start and stay that way for a lifetime.

In an effort to close the gap, one of the overall objectives of the collective impact effort is to ensure that every child achieves kindergarten readiness.

“So our bold goal in Kindergarten Readiness is 60 percent of our kindergarten population ready for school by 2020,” said Achieve Escambia Director Kimberly Krupa.

Based on the 2018 report, less than half or 46 percent of children in Escambia are ready for kindergarten, a ranking of 54th out of Florida’s 67 counties.

“That’s not good enough, but how do we get there? We believe 60 percent by 2020 is a stretch goal, but we believe an even bolder goal is 75 percent by 2025.”

In order to reach those goals, Achieve Escambia is conducting a deep dive into all the factors involved in keeping children from being ready for school and looking at how to address them. One of the big issues emerging is child development.

“Children, who aren’t screened for a delay or a concern that a parent might have before they arrive at school, continued to fall behind throughout their elementary school years and that manifests itself in things like 3rd grade reading and 7th grade math,” Krupa said. “So we need to get children screened early so we can start prevention early. And, that’s our campaign called Early Screening Matters Escambia.”

This effort is in line with Help Me Grow, a system model for early childhood screening developed in the 1990s by Connecticut pediatrician Dr. Paul Dworkin, who spoke in Pensacola this summer.

Florida joined his Help Me Grow National network in 2012, with the state’s web page showing a little over one-third of the 67 counties served to date.

Kimberly Krupa, director of Achieve Escambia County, stops by WUWF to discuss the collective impact effort's 2018 report.
Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media

“We want to bring Help Me Grow, which is a proven best practice,” said Krupa about the coordinated system through United Way of Escambia County, where parents can call 2-1-1 to inquire about the initiative and connect with a trained child outreach navigator to help link them with services.

Another key benchmark measured in the 2018 report is enrollment in voluntary pre-kindergarten or VPK programs offered by the Office of Early Learning. Although the free early childhood learning program for four-year-olds is free, Escambia’s participation is on the decline, a rate of just 58 percent compared to a 76 percent in Florida.

According to Krupa, one reason is that private schools in Escambia do not necessarily participate in VPK, so their numbers aren’t tracked in the count.

To increase enrollment, Krupa suggests better promotion to get the word out about VPK and to share what she calls “astonishing” gains after just one year.

“The biggest jump is in math,” she said referencing that 26 percent of four-year-olds who are proficient for their age when they start VPK and they’re ending the year 87 percent proficient. “I mean I’ve never seen numbers like this in education. It’s stunning the difference that pre-school four-year-old class can make.”

Meantime, Achieve Escambia is utilizing their collective data to identify entire communities that are lagging behind in terms of growth and to figure out how to support and build them up.

In 2016, C.A. Weis Elementary is designated as Florida's second community school.
Credit C.A. Weis Community School

That’s why they’ve put a lot of emphasis on the neighborhood around C.A. Weis Elementary, which in 2016 became Florida’s second Community School, focused on the “whole child” model.

Data shows that the zip code is a distressed community, with the highest volume of calls to 9-1-1 and use of abuse and neglect hotlines.

“So, we really want to get to the heart of this community, build family engagement and involvement and kind of shine the light on what’s happening at Weiss, use that as a model that we can bring to other settings,” Krupa said.

Krupa calls the “community partnership” approach a “best practice” that should be in place at every Title 1 school in the state. In follow up to the pilot initiative at Weis, having it implemented at all eligible schools in Escambia County is another of Achieve Escambia’s goals.