San Jose State University

05/16/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/16/2024 11:05

Lurie College Becomes First in the State to Offer PK-3 Teaching Credential Program

In 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a lawthat requires any school district offering kindergarten to also provide a transitional kindergarten (TK) for all four-year-olds by the 2025-2026 school year. Since then, many schools across the state have expanded their TK curriculum, offering an additional year of free public school.

As an outgrowth of this legislation, California established a new teaching credential, spanning age three years to third grade. San José State's Connie L. Lurie College of Education, with the support of a team of faculty members who had established the Early Childhood Institute (ECI),quickly turned their attention to the implications of this change for both children and teachers. Starting in summer 2022, Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education Maria Fusaro teamed up with Teacher Education Department Chair David Whitenack, Child and Adolescent Development Professor Emily Slusser and Associate Professor of Special Education Andrea Golloher to create a credential program that would qualify educators for teaching PK (pre-kindergarten) through third grade.

"SJSU was uniquely positioned to respond quickly to this critical need," says Heather Lattimer, dean of the Lurie College. "Drs. Maria Fusaro, Andy Golloher, and Emily Slusser have been fantastic bridge builders, creating collaborations across three departments within the college - Child and Adolescent Development, Special Education, and Teacher Education, as well as our Bilingual Credential Program - leveraging incredible expertise to design a highly inclusive program for the PK-3 credential.

"Additionally we have great partnerships with our regional K12 school districts and ECE programs, many of which are led by graduates of our college, including offering a TK residency program in partnership with a consortia of local elementary and unified school districts."

Traditionally, educators who work in public schools in California seek either a single subject credential (i.e. math, English, history, etc.) to teach middle or high school or a multiple subject credential to teach elementary school. At SJSU, these programs were offered primarily as part of graduate programs and can sometimes also include bilingual authorizations.

Meanwhile, those wishing to teach in preschool programs would earn credits toward a child development permit, either through coursework at community college or during their time in undergraduate or graduate degree programs. With the expansion of TK for all 4-year-olds, the state developed the PK-3 credential in order to align preschool curriculum and licensing requirements with an elementary school environment.

In collaboration with faculty across their three LCOE departments, and with support from Isabel Vallejo, director of assessment, accreditation and special programs, the team submitted a proposal for the new PK-3 teaching credential - a program which, as of early May, was the first in the state to be officially approved by the Committee of Teaching Credentialing. Applications for the first cohort are being accepted at SJSU through July 1, with a fall 2024 start date.

Lattimer adds that several generous donors have funded robust scholarships for students pursuing pathways to teach early childhood education.

"This combination of strengths allowed us to move quickly to design and launch an interdisciplinary, culturally sustaining, inclusive, community-engaged, and developmentally responsive PK-3 credential that will meet a huge need in our region and establish a model for others across the state and around the country," she says.

L-R: Emily Slusser, Andrea Golloher and Maria Fusaro founded the Early Childhood Institute at SJSU in 2019. Now they're helping establish a PK-3 credential at SJSU. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Like many of the Lurie College's teaching programs, the PK-3 credential offers multiple pathways for educators, including the option of adding a master's degree in teaching or bilingual authorization. Because curriculum draws on multiple departments, Whitenack says credential candidates receive a well-rounded and comprehensive education.

"The PK-3 credential program affords the opportunity to prepare teachers who reflect the demographics and share experiences similar to those of the youngest students in our service area," he says, sharing that many early childhood educators are fluent in languages beyond English, and are women of color. Given their professional interest in working with young children, they are likely to be interested in the PK-3 credential. "We're hopeful that the PK-3 program broadens the pool of folks interested in earning a teaching credential."

Whitenack adds that "because the departments of Child and Adolescent Development, Special Education, and Teacher Education collaboratively designed the program and will share in its operation, PK-3 teacher candidates will receive the most developmentally appropriate and inclusive preparation possible."

The interdisciplinary and inclusive approach is designed to prepare candidates to work with children as young as three years old up through third grade. By including early childhood educators in this umbrella, Fusaro says the program will mutually benefit teachers and students - early childhood or preschool educators may qualify for higher salaries as public school teachers, and students will learn from educators with a strong foundation in child development.

"The PK-3 credential provides space for early childhood perspectives to be pushed up into elementary school," says Fusaro, who together with Slusser and Golloher, founded ECI. "For example, in early childhood programs, it's typical for children to have some autonomy, where they can take the lead choosing what to explore or learn about. We know that when children are inherently interested in a topic, they are really receptive to learning about it. I'm hopeful that by having more teachers with this mindset in schools, young children will have many meaningful and joyful learning opportunities in PK-3 classrooms."

PK-3 teachers are expected to design, implement and facilitate learning activities that engage students according to their developmental needs with an eye toward inclusivity, adds Golloher.

"Our interdisciplinary preparation of teachers in this credential program is truly unique and will ensure that we prepare candidates who are well-versed in child development along with instructional practices and strategies to include children with and without disabilities in the same classroom - all important characteristics of teachers in the early grades," she says.

The new credential program also creates exciting opportunities for career advancement, both for early childhood educators with years of experience who are ready to pursue a credential, as well as for more junior teachers who may want to pursue a master's degree or doctorate in education.

"I am excited about this new opportunity for students with interests in developmental science and early education to earn a teaching credential and master's degree in teaching, with a unique focus on young learners in early elementary school classrooms," says Slusser. "The launch of this program provides students with new pathways for education and career advancement, and signifies a significant step forward in elevating the early childhood profession."

Learn more about the PK-3 credential program at SJSU.