Connelly_smallResearch shows that children who begin formal schooling behind their peers are likely to stay behind and are more at risk of dropping out of school. This is a tragedy of epic proportions—most of these children are destined to lead permanently challenged lives, often adversely affecting their families and our society.

An unsettling reality of our education system is that various sectors are often separated by seams that can unravel, leaving unsupported children teetering between preschool and elementary grades, between elementary and middle school, between middle school and high school, or between high school and college or career.

Creating seamless learning experiences from prekindergarten through 3rd grade requires all the sectors to work together in affording every child the opportunity to grow, develop, and fulfill his or her highest potential. As a first step toward this, it is important for early childhood educators and elementary educators to acknowledge our shared ideals: Whole child development in the prekindergarten years forms the bedrock of learning that is sustained and enhanced in the primary grades. Children who are nurtured socially, creatively, emotionally, and physically are better prepared to learn.

Principals, who are key instructional leaders, ensure all children have a meaningful and relevant foundation for learning. Effective elementary principals lead their schools with vision and courage, provide instructional guidance to teachers, and motivate all stakeholders to sustain comprehensive learning communities. They are ideally positioned to collaborate in effectively knitting together the seamless continuum to ensure success for all children. But to do that, they need to build on their existing knowledge and expertise.

To accomplish this goal, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) is working to strengthen federal policy to provide much-needed professional development for elementary principals specifically related to early childhood education. Our goal is to ensure that principals are afforded the knowledge, resources, and tools needed to understand and learn how to provide a seamless continuum of learning and developmentally appropriate practice from preschool through 3rd grade.

NAESP is advocating for new policies in the ESEA reauthorization to strengthen professional development for principals and include standards for program strategies to create comprehensive early childhood programs. The standards should provide guidance to principals on effective prekindergarten through 3rd grade alignment, which entails directly working with families to bridge the transition to the primary grades. Principals must have more support given the enormous responsibilities they shoulder and the growing complexities of the job ahead.

Our children are depending on us to work together across the sectors to get it right from the start to ensure they have a better chance for success in school and in life.

NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly recently contributed this post to ASCD's Whole Child Blog.