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Six community partners in Long Beach, California, are working to increase school readiness in one ZIP code area of the city. Marielle Bohan-Baker of HFRP describes their instructive and collaborative approach to planning and evaluation.¹

Capitalizing on community assets and consensus about the need to intervene earlier in the lives of young children, six education and social service organizations are partnering to improve the literacy skills of over 2,000 preschool age children in Long Beach, California. This initiative, REACH (Readiness and Early Activities for Children from the Heart), seeks to address one of the most pervasive problems in early childhood education—staff turnover among underpaid providers.

With close to one-third of all its children living in poverty, a majority of its schools with standardized reading test scores below the 50th percentile, and significant gang activity, Long Beach can be a difficult learning environment for children. Within the city, the diverse 90806 ZIP code is among the neediest. REACH partners chose to focus in this ZIP code as they test strategies to combat staff turnover and improve early childhood professionals’ understanding and application of literacy knowledge and skills with the ultimate goal of improving children’s literacy skill development. Partners used the results of a questionnaire designed to pinpoint the needs of early childhood professionals within 90806 to fine-tune their strategies during a planning phase.

Approached with numerous proposals from the community, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Long Beach local advisory committee comprised of business and community leaders chose REACH in addition to some other smaller projects.² “We thought if we can make a difference in this one ZIP code where we have so much working against us, we could really have something that is transferable to other areas [of Long Beach],” says Jim Worsham, chairperson of the advisory committee.

A major factor influencing the choice of 90806 and the focus on school readiness was leaders’ experience creating workforce development strategies in the aftermath of welfare reform. An analysis of the needs of workers and particularly those of low-income mothers revealed a critical gap between the need for quality child care services and availability. A 2002 Knight Foundation survey of Long Beach residents, which cited illiteracy and public education as areas of concern, reinforced the focus on early education.

California State University at Long Beach is spearheading the five-year initiative, which includes both public and private partners. Other partners include Long Beach Unified School District, Young Horizons, Long Beach City College, City of Long Beach, and Literacy Works.

Evaluation That Builds on Community Approaches
From the beginning of her involvement in the initiative, REACH evaluator Avery Goldstein, Ph.D., of California State University at Long Beach, has emphasized the importance of respecting community organizations’ approaches to evaluation. In addition to designing the research portion of the grant proposal with all of the REACH partners, Goldstein has worked with the organizations to hone their evaluation questions, as she came into the process once the initiative was already underway.

Goldstein has also built on the developmental assessments that the organizations were already using to measure children’s progress rather than revamp each approach. She says, “Certainly from a research perspective, it is ideal to have everyone using the same measures. However, given the amount of assessment already going on, I knew once we made sure the tools being used were reliable that we had to build on these and make the assessment process as user-friendly and as useful as possible. It takes more work from the evaluator’s perspective, but I think that is important when doing community work.”

Goldstein and her colleagues established a five-year, longitudinal evaluation design integrating quantitative and qualitative benchmarks. The evaluation team is currently compiling and analyzing baseline data on children’s literacy development, the results of which will be available early next year. Data on teacher retention will be available in fall 2004. Use of data over the course of the evaluation will inform the interventions. For example, individual profiles detailing the qualifications of all early childhood professionals in participating REACH child care centers have been developed from which personal goals for each will be established and their progress in advancing on a “career ladder” tracked. Child care centers and university partners will be able to assess the impact that participation in training courses on early literacy and stipends have on the professionals’ advancement, as well as whether strategies are translating into better classroom practices and ultimately to children’s achievement. As partners meet monthly with Goldstein to discuss progress, cumulative knowledge of how strategies are working will be developed and applied.

The emphasis on evaluation is helping create a common language between the Knight advisory committee and the REACH partners. “Evaluation is helping us tailor our expectations to measurable outcomes and makes us clearer about the questions that need to be asked,” says Jim Worsham.

REACH and Seamless Education
As REACH moves forward, leaders aim to formalize the link between REACH and the Long Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD) Seamless Education Initiative, which is an effort to align exit and entry expectations and teacher preparation and professional development from one grade level to the next, from the pre-kindergarten level through college. LBUSD has agreements with Long Beach City College and California State University at Long Beach that enable LBUSD graduating students to be accepted first among their applicants.

Efforts to connect pre-kindergarten and child care to the Seamless Education Initiative have been fostered through REACH’s consultation with LBUSD about school readiness issues. Judy Seal, director of the Seamless Education Initiative, believes LBUSD is preparing the ground for a more formal partnership with REACH. “When the superintendent appointed two excellent elementary school principals to the pre-k level, one to head the district’s child development centers and the other to lead Head Start, we knew this challenge was being taken seriously.” These former principals are now key leaders in REACH.

Readers can learn more about REACH at the upcoming National Association for the Education of Young Children annual conference in Chicago, where initiative representatives will be presenting. See for more information.

¹ Interviews were conducted with Avery Goldstein, California State University at Long Beach, Judy Seal, Long Beach Education Foundation, John Williams, Knight Foundation, and John Worsham, Long Beach Advisory Committee.
² The Knight Foundation funds the REACH initiative as part of a funding strategy in Long Beach, California, one of 26 communities where it focuses. The Knight Foundation’s Community Indicators Project, which provides research-based information to the foundation and its partners, tracks key indicators over time for the 26 communities. For more information see

Marielle Bohan-Baker, Project Manager, HFRP

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