Many great things are happening in Washington's early learning circles, but sometimes they don't get noticed outside the local community. This blog attempts to connect the many organizational and individual efforts happening.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Focus, Focus, the Time is Now

The last month and a half has been crackling with energy and increasing momentum. In addition to the Final Report from Washington Learns, The Department of Early Learning has issued its Report to Governor Gregoire and the Washington State Legislature.

The Department has also moved swiftly to hire an able deputy in the person of Peter Antolin who can assist in the complex issues of early learning finance. The ability of the new Information Technology Manager, Gregg Richmond is evident in the amazingly beautiful, user-friendly and child-focused DEL Website! The restructuring to create three Assistant Directors for: Quality, Parent Support & Programs and Systems & Partnership also bodes well.

At the Governor's Office, long-time policy person Leslie Goldstein has joined the Governor's staff as Executive Policy Advisor for early learning. Moreover, the incredibly talented Joyce Turner, who served as interim director of the DEL, has become Goveror's Deputy Chief of Staff. All of this is good for those interested in continuing early learning's increased visibility and success.

The Governor's Budget also includes some important new support for early learning as does the the bill she has introduced to carry out her budget priorities. However, it is still clear that early learning has some distance to go to increase awareness of how key an investment it is. While we cannot be successful without needed investments in K-12 and higher education, the degree to which policy makers have acknowledged that investing early is the answer in education, suggests that the amounts proposed are too low. Though some people attempt to include the funding of full-day kindergarten (which is sorely needed) as early learning, that approach is disingenous. While early learning may eventually be reclassified as the years from prenatal through 3rd grade, that policy decision has not been made.

If we are to be serious about the Governor's challenge to create an educational system that is the envy of the world and sets our course for long-term economic expansion, we must insist on appropriate investment to back that up. We have to seize the initiative and insist that helping families and ensuring the healthy development of Washington children is THE priority. If this is not the year for early learning in Washington, I cannot imagine when it will be. The case has been made, understanding has been increased and early learning is on the lips of lawmakers in Olympia.

We need to focus, focus, focus. The time is now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Find Good Partners

The past two weeks have been filled with activity, big announcements and events which are the culmination of months of work for many people. In each of these situations, the role of picking the right partners and creating strong relationships if we want to create a movement has been driven home.

In mid-November the Governor unveiled the final report for Washington Learns at an event in Seattle where Bill Gates III was the keynote speaker. Mr. Gates' comments raised some serious challenges to our current way of thinking about education and the lessons learned in partnership with the private sector prompt us to mobilize the forces to make the difference in education.

For me, it was great to follow that event with a reception at the Governor's Summit on Early Learning. As the truly amazing and flexible partners with whom, I was fortunate to plan the Summit worked, we were insistent that the Summit needed to include ample opportunities for local and state early learning champions to meet each other on an individual level. The fact that Jone Bosworth and Regina Jones modeled flexibility and playfulness by dancing to the marimba band, set a good and relaxed tone for the crowd. As we moved into the next day's activities, I was struck by how many great, flexible and strategic thinking partners I have across the state. After the Governor's inspirational comments, I was fortunate to be asked to facilitate the 19 5-minute presentations that individual local teams made about the key ingredients they felt necessary to build local capacity and momentum. The main point is, we have many great, flexible and strategic thinkers at the state-level and in local communities.

Over the next week,the wit, wisdom, commitment and capacity of other key partners was evident. At the Foundation for Early Learning's board retreat, our board members from across the state and our staff showed how strategic, flexible and passionate they are about making a difference for children and families in Washington. We had a good discussion about the best and most strategic role the Foundation can currently play. The board decided we should focus on providing many of the supports identified by the local teams at the Summit, such as early learning community networking tools and web-based collaboration tools.

At the Thrive by Five Washington board meeting, Governor Gregoire and Bill Gates Sr. demonstrated their full grasp of what it will really take to move the agenda forward. The talents, intellect and wisdom of Jone Bosworth and Graciela Italiano Thomas as well as the support and experience of other board members and supporters was also evident.

Finally, today during the evaluation teleconference for a Kids Matter funder, the flexibility, strategic thinking and determination of key players was again on display. All of this is to say, that identifying strong partners in the cause, nurturing the relationships we develop and keeping our common vision on a common point in the future is irreplaceable in moving us ahead. Thank YOU for your partnership!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lend a Hand

Another important aspect of advancing a successful early learning strategy was brought home again to me this past week and a half with full force. Namely, we will not get far if we do not join hands and support each other, not just philosophically, but in a real and practical way.

As plans for the Governor's Summit on Early Learning move ahead next week, there are many other activities distracting key players. The impending reports of Washington Learns, the Early Learning Council and the Department of Early Learning to name but a few. Since the effort to plan the Summit has been a collaborative effort from the start, it is not surprising to me that tasks woudl get handed from one person to the next as circumstances change. But in the past week and a half, we have absorbed multiple vacations, illnesses, major car crashes, unexpected and tricky political work in Seattle and all sorts of challenges to our success.

I have been amazed and gratified as people have pitched in, helped each other and additional support has fallen from the sky. It is a good reminder that investing in strong work relationships with people you can trust, is a necessary precursor to creating a movement in any field. Thanks to all of you who have lent a hand to make sure that my work and OUR work continues NO MATTER WHAT!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Common Cause

Over the past few days I have had several opportunities to be reminded that there is more common cause in advancing children's issues than we sometimes think. Among the examples:

The Early Childhood Learning Affinity Group of Funders, which the Foundation started at Philanthropy Northwest 6 years ago was hosted by the Tulalip Tribe on the Tulalip reservation on Tuesday. Challenges wrought by years of poor treatment at the hands of settlers and federal and state government were evident in examples provided by members of the Colville Confederated Tribe of Indians and Tulalip Tribe and other tribal representatives. Representatives from the six first nations who state attended also provided an overview of the specific differences in world view that affect their choices for their community and children. They also provided some good reminders of the unique interests, challenges and opportunities in their community. The challenge of reviving the Salishan language when there are more young children who can speak the language than elders and other teachers was particularly vivid.

However, I was struck by how many of the things that these communities want for their children were similar to my own desires for my children. Shortcomings of our educational system, consumer culture and bureaucratic roadblocks they identified, were similar to those many families experience, albeit for different reasons and to different degrees. I left the meeting wondering about common cause and action.

On Wednesday, I met with a group of funder representatives and Children's Museums at Talaris and was again struck by the commonality. There were differences in approaches to address customer needs and interests, but the common vision for supporting families, creating community and promoting children's healthy development was palpable. The degree to which the organizations saw each other as assets and compatriots rather than competitors was encouraging.

I have just returned from a Legislative Candidate Forum in Bellevue this morning, where no less than 11 candidates (Ross Hunter, Toby Nixon, Luke Esser, Dale Murphy, Eric Oemig, Deb Eddy, Roger Goodman, Judy Clibborn, Larry Springer, Fred Jarrett, Rodney Tom) took time from their busy schedules less than two weeks before the election to hear about early learning and health and share their own ideas and commitments. Solutions and priorities ranged from preventing teenage pregnancy to supporting parents to preventing domestic violence to realizing administrative efficiencies and accountability and unleashing the market forces of parents as consumers. What was striking was that again, though the path to early learning and health as top issues was different for each candidate, as were the prioritized solutions, there was amazing agreement.

All of this is to say that in the philanthropic, service and policy circles, there is a lot of agreement and a lot of support. Our task is to listen, identify common cause, connect and move.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Autumn Arrives with a Whirlwind

Years of community work by many individuals and organizations is paying great dividends. The Foundation for Early Learning is pleased to be supporting local early learning planning in Clark, King, Spokane and Thurston counties through our Getting School Ready! TM approach. We're also excited to join with other partners who are building community capacity for early learning through a variety of mechanisms.

One such mechanism is the Governor's Early Learning Summit on November 13th and 14th. The event is designed to build connections among local teams and state organizations and is supported both by the Foundation and the Washington Build Initiative which is part of the state's Kids Matter effort. At the Summit, the Governor will continue to demonstrate her passion for early learning and have a chance to hear from local teams about their efforts. While the Summit is designed specifically to invite local and state teams, others can benefit from the relationships that will be strengthened that day. Check back here in mid-November for updates on the Summit and links to on-line community pages where you can participate.

Another exciting development is the appointment of Jone Bosworth as the new Director of the Department of Early Learning. In short order, Jone has inspired the new agency to take advantage of the momentum in early learning. I have seen Jone in action at the recent DEL retreat and in other settings, and I can tell you that we are in for great things folks.

When the new public-private partnership Thrive by Five Washington hires its CEO, these two leaders can join hands with the Governor and many local leaders who are creating early learning action on the ground. Both Jone and the Governor are very approachable good listeners, so if you see them at an event, introduce yourself.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Strategic thinking

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I will be updating this regularly with information about the early learning movement taking place in Washington State and beyond.
Check back often for updates, and welcome!