In 2004, with support from the Freddie Mac Foundation, the YEF Institute provided technical assistance to 12 cities to help them develop long-range early childhood strategic plans. These cities included: Columbus, Ohio; Fort Worth, Texas; Greenville, S.C.; Hamden, Conn.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Jackson, Miss.; Kokomo, Ind.; Mansfield, Conn.; Northglenn, Colo.; Ralston, Neb.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Tulsa, Okla.
Selections were based on the active commitment of the mayor or a city councilmember, the municipality's robust partnerships with community organizations and the city's interest in making early childhood success a city-wide priority. Each of the Freddie Mac Foundation Early Childhood Challenge cities took important steps to develop their early childhood plans. These include:
Forming Partnerships to Spearhead Planning Efforts
In Greenville, S.C., Vice Mayor Pro Tem Diane Smock and the city manager's office forged a strong partnership with the local United Way to develop a set of key goals for the city's early childhood initiative. The goals were based on the results of the United Way's recent community assessment. The city's three-year strategic plan was unanimously adopted by the Greenville City Council on November 8, 2004.
The City of Tulsa, Okla., and the Tulsa Metropolitan Human Services Commission established the Tulsa County Partnership for Early Childhood Success to coordinate overall planning and community engagement efforts around early care and education.
The group includes broad representation from all sectors of the community and is chaired by Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune. The partnership is supported by staff from leading human services and planning organizations in the city.
In Kokomo, Ind., Mayor Matt McKillip and the director of the city-run child care center organized a meeting with stakeholders in the community to get input on community needs and priorities. This meeting highlighted the opportunity to build on the separate efforts of the city government, a community foundation and the United Way, and laid the foundation for a collaborative effort that will align priorities and better leverage community resources.
Conducting Community Assessments of Local Early Childhood Needs
In Ralston, Neb., Mayor Donald Groesser's Advisory Commission on Early Childhood conducted a set of six focus groups with parents, child care providers, senior citizens, apartment managers, preschool and kindergarten teachers and business owners to get input on the most pressing early childhood needs in the community.
The focus groups helped form their strategic plan, which was presented to city council in the summer. The city council approved $4,000 in seed money to help the group get started with implementation.
The School Readiness Council in the Town of Mansfield, Conn., hosted two "community conversations" to gather input on the needs of young children and their families. As a result, several work groups were formed to address the identified priorities, including financing early care and education, parent engagement and disseminating information.
In addition, they also administered a town-wide random survey and surveyed particular groups within the community (e.g. the University of Connecticut, a library parent/toddler program) to evaluate opinions about full-day kindergarten.
In Jackson, Miss., the director and deputy director of the city's Department of Human and Cultural Affairs reached out to the broader community of early education providers, advocates and parents to begin laying out the strengths, weaknesses and emerging opportunities of the current early childhood system. The city also consulted parents through a breakfast focus group to gather input on key early childhood needs in the community.
Hosting Community Convenings to Get Input from Key Stakeholders
In St. Louis, Mo., Mayor Francis Slay's Summit on Early Childhood Success in January 2004 launched the city's planning process. During a series of four follow-up summits, a large task force of community stakeholders developed the city's "Strategic Vision for Early Childhood Success," which the mayor announced at a press conference in October 2004. St. Louis' early childhood success working group was recently awarded a $1 million Early Learning Opportunities Grant (ELOA) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support early literacy and related early childhood initiatives.
Columbus, Ohio, Councilmember Charleta Tavares and her staff partnered with a non-profit information and referral organization, Action for Children, to develop a planning process for the city's early childhood work. The partners held a school readiness forum in spring 2004 and, more recently, a community convening in December 2004. Through the community convening, participants used a statewide early learning framework as a basis for reflecting on local needs. As a result, they were able to identify key measurable outcomes that will be targeted for action in a strategic plan.
Northglenn, Colo., Mayor Kathie Novak hosted a Summit on Early Childhood to kick off the city's early childhood planning efforts. More than 45 community leaders attended the summit, provided feedback on results from a local early childhood assessment and identified top priorities for action. Since the summit, an official working group has been formed called the Early Childhood Resource Partnership that will develop the details of a strategic plan.
Creating an Implementation Mechanism
In Indianapolis, a partnership between Mayor Bart Peterson, the United Way of Central Indiana and the Annie E. Casey Foundation was the foundation for developing a comprehensive strategic plan for the community.
The Success By Six Leadership Council, made up of 35 community leaders, was formed to provide oversight and coordination for implementation of the plan. The council's work will be carried out through three subcommittees: early literacy, public awareness and data development.
Each committee will be chaired by a member of the council and supported by experts from the community.
In Fort Worth, Texas, Mayor Pro Tem Ralph McCloud and senior staff from the local child care resource and referral agency spearheaded the early childhood strategic planning effort for the city. Their work was supported by a broader working group including representatives from the United Way, the local school district, city public health department, the early childhood provider community and the Chamber of Commerce.
In October 2004, the Fort Worth City Council approved the Early Childhood Community Action Plan and authorized the creation of an Early Childhood Matters Council to implement it. One of the new council's first tasks will be to seek funding for key initiatives of the plan.
In Hamden, Conn., the mayor's office and school superintendent's office co-chair a School Readiness Council, which has been working to develop and operationalize an early childhood strategic plan for the community. Through this project, they created a committee structure to carry out this work, including a steering committee and committees focused on program, advocacy, research and development and communications and marketing.