California awards $5 million to 21CSLA for equity in early childhood education

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April 14, 2022

The California Department of Education has awarded a $5-million grant to the 21st Century California School Leadership Academy (21CSLA) State Center to ensure leaders for equity are prepared to implement the state’s groundbreaking rollout of Universal Prekindergarten (UPK).

The award to 21CSLA—headquartered at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education and in partnership with UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies and the California Subject Matter Project—provides a substantial statewide investment in preparing the state’s educational leaders to prioritize equity in offering transitional kindergarten to every 4-year-old in California by 2026.

“Ensuring equity in education for California’s youngest children and their families is one way we can make systemic change,” said 21CSLA Director Rebecca Cheung, executive director of Leadership Programs at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of  Education. “Universal Prekindergarten gives us a means of disrupting inequality, especially if the goal of equity is truly at the heart of our efforts. If we do it right in California, we can be a model for the nation.”

The 21CSLA’s UPK Initiative will include no-cost professional learning for education leaders, featuring a “train-the-trainer” model and certification, development and rollout of learning modules for leaders, design and piloting of multiple professional learning opportunities, and evaluation and research to continually improve the initiative. Professional learning topics will include developmentally appropriate instruction, social-emotional development, inclusive practices for English Language Learners and multilingual students, recruiting and retaining highly trained and qualified teachers who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, home/family engagement, and integration across preschool through third grade—among other areas.

“This initiative provides an opportunity to support educational leaders in developing an equity stance and expertise to meet the pedagogical, cultural, social and emotional needs of early learners,” said Christina Christie, Wasserman Dean of UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. 

The 21CSLA State Center is based at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education and is in collaboration with the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, the California Subject Matter Project, and seven Regional Academies across the state.

The 21CSLA UPK Initiative will be led by Coordinator Aija Simmons, Lead Trainer Tanya Harris at UC Berkeley, and  Lead Trainers JoAnn Isken and Amanda Steiman at UCLA. The 21CSLA State Center is directed by Dr. Cheung and Faculty Director Professor Jabari Mahiri at UC Berkeley and Dr. Nancy Parachini and Professor Megan Franke at UCLA. 

The 21CSLA is a state-funded initiative dedicated to an equity-forward, evidence-based approach to expanding the capacity of California leaders at all levels to better serve historically marginalized and underserved students. The original California School Leadership Academy, established 1983 and administered by the California Department of Education until 2003, was re-authorized and launched in 2019 as the 21st Century School Leadership Academy

“Substantial research suggests that providing quality, equity-based education in early childhood is good for the health, social-emotional development, and ability to learn at every grade level and throughout  life,” said Professor Mahiri. “California’s  investment in their youngest learners is a major investment in the future of our state.”

For more information or to request interviews with 21CSLA leaders, please contact Communications Director Andrea Lampros at 510.847.4469 or

Photo credit: "Kindergarten boy with magnifying glass" by All4Ed is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.jpg