Kellogg City Profiles
Over the course of 2013-2016, groups of community leaders from six cities interested in improving early childhood systems participated in an intensive technical assistance program through the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. While each city has a unique system of early childhood with its own bright spots and challenges, the teams of early childhood stakeholders all shared the same vision of a community with access to a seamless system of high-quality early childhood services from birth to age 8 for all children. Below are stories from each community revealing just one aspect of their journey on the path to achieving this vision.
The City of Longmont, Colorado hosts Bright EYES (Early Years Education Stewards), a group of stakeholders from the city, the school district, a local hospital, a community health center, private early childhood providers, Head Start and several of Longmont’s children’s service agencies who are working together to improve early childhood outcomes. Bright EYES’ goals are closely aligned with the goals of the National League of Cities’ Educational Alignment for Young Children initiative, and over the last two years of the project, Bright EYES and its partners have made significant progress transforming family engagement across the community.
The early childhood community in Longmont chose to focus on family engagement as a key school readiness strategy as part of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Educational Alignment Project and their participation in the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Stakeholders of Bright EYES knew there were more families they needed to reach and that reaching all families could help children be more prepared for school
In 2014, Longmont’s Division of Children and Youth Resources began offering two nationally recognized parent programs for families with young children called Abriendo Puertas and Nurturing Parenting. The two programs were very successful with parents reporting improved interactions with their children and increased skills and knowledge on parenting and advocating for their families. The community learned several valuable lessons through the process of launching these programs and implemented strategies that helped make them successful. They offered dinner and child care at the sessions to make them accessible to families with busy lives. They also learned to recruit families at grocery stores, laundromats and totillerias to reach families who were not yet connected to the schools or the social service system.
Bright EYES wanted to help other organizations improve their daily interactions with families to be more responsive to families’ needs and empower them to be advocates for themselves. They invited Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) to train organizations in Longmont. Among many other services, COFI offers trainings on family engagement to service providers, including those working with young children and their families, to help them build the power and voice of low-income and working families at all levels of civic life. In Longmont, parents and service providers from public and private institutions attended a two-day training and are incorporating family engagement strategies into existing programs and projects in the community. In follow-up meetings, they are sharing their experience with programs that have similar parent leadership goals. Some partners have used tools from the model to restructure their existing engagement efforts. The training inspired participants in a community coalition to bring parents into their group meetings to discuss how to improve the early learning system. To make it easy for families to attend, they hosted one of their meetings on a Saturday afternoon at a laundromat.
Bright EYES also saw a need for helping families navigate the process of registering and preparing their children for kindergarten. Children have varying experiences before entering elementary school. They may have been with family, friends, and neighbors in informal settings, in a pre-k classroom in an elementary school, or in a Montessori program at a community based organization. The transition from Pre-K to kindergarten is a significant and sometimes overwhelming process for both children and parents. Smooth transitions require connections between parents and schools and between Pre-K and kindergarten teachers and classrooms. Across the country many communities have put together programs that help ease the transition. The city of Longmont planned to create their own program with input from the entire early learning community. In February 2014, Bright EYES and NLC hosted an Early Learning Summit for public and private Pre-K providers, parents and community partners to look at existing transition resources in other communities and choose pieces that would be useful in Longmont.
A task force of two kindergarten teachers, two public Pre-K teachers, two private Pre-K teachers, and a representative from the community college developed a website based on the key components agreed on by summit participants. Bright EYES and the city of Longmont released the “Launch to Kindergarten/L2K” toolkit in both Spanish and English in fall 2015 to help providers, parents and caregivers prepare children for kindergarten. The guide outlines what families should do in the year leading up to kindergarten beginning in October of the child’s fourth year. It provides dates, milestones and resources to help families choose schools, register for kindergarten and prepare children for the classroom. A subcommittee was formed to monitor the first roll out and think about how the program needs to evolve. They sent a survey to Pre-K and kindergarten teachers who used the toolkit last year for feedback on the design and rollout. They are hoping to place physical copies of the document in every early learning classroom in the school district and in apartment buildings and realtor offices. Lastly, they plan to visit child care centers across Longmont to deliver a copies of the toolkit and walk directors through the website so they can help parents navigate it.
The Longmont community has made great strides in reaching families with small children, but they still face many challenges including how to communicate data about their community, schools, and children, as well as how to meet children’s social and emotional needs. They also struggle with how best to reach families with undocumented parents or those who weren’t successful in school themselves. Longmont doesn’t have all the answers yet, but they have model for bringing families to the table as equal partners to provide the highest quality early childhood experiences for Longmont’s children.
The City of Richmond, Virginia, has long been part of the National League of Cities’ (NLC) early childhood learning community, developing strong early childhood partnerships and programing. Through the Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB) – launched in 2011 as a mayor-led anti-poverty commission -- the city has collaborated with Richmond Public Schools to create the Richmond Early Childhood Cabinet and the Richmond Early Childhood Action Council. The cabinet coordinates early childhood programs and policies across organizations while the council includes a broader membership of early childhood providers, foundations and elected officials.
The OCWB is also working to build a robust family engagement approach that is inclusive of all families in the community. Supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the office has completed community needs assessments and program evaluations and collected data and metrics. The city hired a research fellow to interview 35 agencies who touch the office in some way around early childhood and family engagement to better understand each agency’s role in Richmond’s early childhood system. These interviews will contribute to an early childhood strategic plan with the goal of improving outcomes for Richmond’s youngest citizens.
The office is also working to build a robust family engagement approach that is inclusive of all families in the community. Supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the office has been able to complete community needs assessments and program evaluations and collect data and metrics. The city hired a research fellow to interview 35 agencies who touch the office in some way around early childhood and family engagement to better understand each agency’s role in Richmond’s early childhood system. These interviews will contribute to an early childhood strategic plan with the goal of improving outcomes for Richmond’s youngest citizens.
On the ground, OCWB is zeroing in on Richmond’s most vulnerable residents and implementing programs and supports that fit families’ needs. The office conducted a demonstration project at a public housing community that allows parents to define their needs and values and work together to create networks of support through the BLISS Program (Building Lives towards Independence and Self-Sufficiency). The ultimate goal of the program is for families to become self-sufficient and exit public housing to a more stable environment. Within the program, parents define barriers and opportunities for accessing and using early childhood resources.
OCWB also partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health to better understand the state of early childhood in one neighborhood of Richmond. The Center on Society and Health held focus groups with parents and interviewed early childhood providers from center and home-based settings. The data collected will help OCWB learn how to support families where they are as well as influence policies to make a difference in those families’ lives.
The approaches OCWB chose for their family engagement strategies are not by accident. The establishment of the office shifted the city’s approach from a deficit-focus (poverty reduction) to a strengths-based approach (community wealth building). The city is truly committed to improving services, and eventually outcomes with families at the center. Richmond is working to build on the strengths of families and communities and establish networks of support. A parent who is connected to other parents while she is signing her daughter up for a pre-K program is more likely to be equipped with tools and skills to be an advocate for her child, understand how the process works, and what questions to ask.
The office has faced challenges as it builds relationships with partners and the community. A new director recently took the lead, so the office is at a point of transition. As the city completes mapping and planning projects, the office is preparing to move into an implementation phase, which is a daunting task for an office looking to reduce poverty by 40 percent by 2030. The office is now looking for long-term funding and ways to maintain its partnerships. The Office of Community Wealth Building is a small office with big goals, and they must rely heavily on the network of community partners they have established as they move forward.
The City of Hartford’s Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation spearheaded an effort to streamline and increase the effectiveness of services and supports for children and families. In a racially diverse city of over 120,000 where the median income is $29,430, the establishment of this department has benefited the community as a whole. Strong leadership at the city level in combination with a central department serving children and families has provided opportunities for collaboration and improved outcomes beyond city hall. This is evident in how the city has partnered with FirstSchool, a program that organizes professional development workshops for early childhood educators to improve teaching in Hartford.
This collaboration is especially important in a community where early education is offered via two separate school districts, the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) and Hartford Public Schools (HPS), in addition to community-based providers, such as private child care centers and family child care homes. While school choice is a great asset for parents and students, it also creates numerous challenges for collaboration among school districts and community-based programs.
FirstSchool addresses these challenges and provides a framework for educators to teach all children, especially low-income and minority students. The framework focuses on developing high quality learning environments, using data to motivate change, bridging the gap between Pre-K and kindergarten by uniting community and school-based Pre-K with elementary schools, and implementing policies and practices to ensure a more equitable system.
FirstSchool implemented a pilot project, certifying 12 coaches as FirstSchool observers. FirstSchool observers in HPS and CREC are literacy coaches; in community-based providers they are an administrator, a teacher, and literacy coaches. These observers use EduSnap, a data tool that helps coaches track progress and see trends in teaching practices. The data are being used to implement changes in teaching practices in HPS, CREC, and community-based classrooms.
By bringing FirstSchool to Hartford, the city cemented new collaborations among administrators, teachers, community-based providers, and the city itself. The work has been time consuming, but once results from the first pilot project came in, partners realized the project’s impact and saw the importance of the time invested.
Through this project, data that was never accessible before is being collected and used to improve practices in the classroom and influence policy at the local level. Educators increased their knowledge in topics such as working effectively with boys, project-based learning, developmental science, self-regulation and play. The FirstSchool project has led to changes at the classroom, school, district and community level.
This project would not have been possible without the leadership and support of the city. At the beginning of the project, partners needed to establish trust and a shared vision within the group. As they collaborated, partners were able to put aside their own agencies’ priorities and consider what was best for the children of Hartford. The city then was able to blend monetary resources from Hartford Public Schools, the Capitol Region Education Council and city general funds to bring FirstSchool to Hartford. In addition, Jane Crowell, Assistant Director for the Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation used her role at the city to ensure all voices were included in the project. She worked to include both school districts as well as the often left-out community-based programs. In addition, the city developed spaces for collaboration beyond the FirstSchool pilot, including a forum to connect early childhood administrators, an early childhood network and a dedicated WikiSpace for educators and leaders to share resources and updates in one central location.
Inclusion in the Educational Alignment for Young Children project with the National League of Cities supported the city of Hartford’s real-time implementation of best practices in their community, benefiting both students and educators. The FirstSchool partnership brought research and a sense of urgency to the work, catalyzing the collaborations among the partners. The city has broken down siloes and built spaces for the early childhood community to collaborate, share ideas, and pursue professional development opportunities together.
In October 2013, after the Fort Worth Public Library was awarded a technical assistance grant from the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families, the library activated an existing network of early childhood stakeholders, the school district, city, and county leaders, and laid the foundation to launch the Early Learning Alliance.
Worried the collaboration would soon fizzle like many before it, Alliance members sought to form a strong, cohesive union and formed a basic structure that included a leadership team and three subcommittees. This structure brought a sense of intentionality and common direction among the partners. The members committed to meet quarterly as a full team and monthly as subcommittees. The leadership team also meets monthly. Members attended an initial; full day retreat to talk about what they each wanted for Fort Worth’s youngest children and how this fit into their various organizations’ missions. As a group, they developed their collective vision: “Communities empowering all children to succeed”.
With the partners working toward the same goal, they set to putting plans in place to achieve it. Each subcommittee created goals and action plans focused on their respective topics -- family engagement, assessment and data sharing, and professional development. The leaders of these subcommittees formed a Governance Team to develop common definitions and goals that aligned across all the teams and partners. These plans came together in the form of a shared strategic plan called “A Plan for the Next One Thousand Days.”
After a year of working together, the Alliance became an informal clearinghouse where members checked in with each other on the activities their organizations were pursuing. They ensured that these activities aligned with the Alliance’s goals. This helped the partners avoid duplicating each other’s work and amplify their individual activities with input and help from other members.
With the Early Learning Alliance structure in place, which included a shared vision and goals as well as a plan of action, the groups wanted to solidify the partnership. Together they drafted a letter of commitment. By signing this letter, each organization committed to attend regular meetings, participate on a subcommittee, and provide resources to the Alliance through dues or in-kind services. They agreed that “each organization has a better chance of achieving its own mission and has a broader community reach.” Twenty-eight partner organizations and individuals signed the letters and contributed a total of $60,550 in dues as Founding Members.
Forming a formal alliance does not come without challenges. Before a governance structure could be established and letters of commitment signed, a sense of trust and community among partners needed to be established. Partners were required to come to the table with open minds and not let previous experiences and perceptions of partners hinder their ability to collaborate. Once at the table, the leadership team needed to make sure the best interests of the Alliance were the priority, aa opposed to the individual needs of their respective organizations.
After a year and a half, the Alliance decided to evaluate how effectively the coalition was working for both the partners and the community. A consultant studied the partner experience and community outcomes. Partners were surveyed on whether the members and the architecture of the partnership were functioning well. Cultivating the partnership and making sure the partners are happy and getting what they need out of it is going to be critical to the longevity of the Alliance. They also want to make sure the coalition is really improving outcomes for Fort Worth’s children. As the work progresses, the Alliance will study its effect in the larger community including changes in culture, policy, relationships among the stakeholders, and demographics and how these variations result in better achievement for children from birth to age eight. The members will modify their actions in response to the data to improve both their work and relationships with each other.
Now in its third year, the Early Learning Alliance is stronger than ever. More than 50 organizations and individuals representing city departments, community-based early childhood providers and training organizations, higher education, health and mental health providers, private foundations, the United Way, Head Start, Workforce Solutions, and school district representatives are members. Commitment from longstanding community leaders working on early childhood for decades and the influx of energy and ideas from several newcomers were key to the success of the Alliance. In addition, the ability of the partnership to brand itself and grow public presence has made it a key fixture of Fort Worth’s early childhood landscape. Members also mention the leadership of Sandra Lamm, formerly with the Fort Worth Public Library, who serves as the coordinator of the Early Learning Alliance. Her determination and the trust she engendered among the partners was the glue that held the partnership together as it formed.
There is no perfect formula for how a community should structure its early learning system. However, a central body that can govern how the many different pieces fit together is necessary. Fort Worth has created this in the Early Learning Alliance, which propels stakeholders to work together as a community to achieve their shared vision of “Communities empowering all children to succeed”.
In 2013, the Rochester early childhood community began developing two new professional development initiatives as a part of their community-wide cradle to career coalition, Roc the Future. Key partners of Roc the Future include Rochester City School District, the Children’s Agenda, the Children’s Institute, the city of Rochester, Monroe County, United Way of Greater Rochester, Rochester YMCA, the University of Rochester, as well as 50 other service providers, funders, training and policy experts, and other stakeholders. In order to provide high-quality early childhood experiences for young children, everyone working with or on behalf of young children must pursue ongoing professional development opportunities to continuously improve their knowledge, skills, and practices.
As a part of the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families’ Educational Alignment for Young Children’s grant, Roc the Future created an Educational Alignment Coordinating Council. A professional development working group formed under the council and chose two aspects of early childhood professional development in Rochester they wanted to influence: supporting principals and hosting joint trainings for Pre-K and kindergarten teachers. In 2012, the Center for Governmental Research looked at 3rd grade reading scores in Rochester City School District (RCSD). They found a consistent theme that kids were doing better in elementary schools in which principals had some early childhood experience. The professional development working group also noticed that the transition between Pre-K and kindergarten was difficult for children. The kindergarten classroom was dramatically different from the Pre-K environment. It was more academic with less play time than Pre-K classrooms. The working group also noticed that there was little communication and understanding between Pre-K and kindergarten teachers. For these reasons, the Professional Development working group decided to focus on principals and improving professional development and relationships between Pre-K and kindergarten.
Most principals receive little training in early childhood development and education even though the link between success in school and early experiences is well documented. In order to lead strong early education programs, align curricula and foster a continuum of learning among the youngest students, principals must be able to forge partnerships with early childhood providers and teachers and have knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices. The study by the Center for Governmental Research found that when Principals or Assistant Principals had specialized experience in early childhood, kindergarten, reading or special education and were well-versed in the specifics of early literacy, primary instruction and teaching of reading their students consistently outperformed their peers on 3rd grade tests. In these schools, principals are deeply invested in the early grades and allocate resources accordingly. The professional development working group wanted to spread this type of support for early childhood to schools across Rochester and grow other principals’ knowledge in the early childhood world.
After meeting with the school district, they decided to host a Principal Academy to address this gap in training in Rochester. The school district agreed to fund the program and encourage their elementary school principals to attend. The Children’s Institute, a research and training organization, developed the training with input from the RCSD Professional Learning Department. The training included a workshop on early education and a one-on-one guided observation in Pre-K classrooms in the principals’ own schools. Roughly 25 percent of RCSD elementary school principals attended the training.
The professional development group wanted to improve communication between Pre-K and kindergarten teachers and coordinate their professional development to help ease the transition for children leaving Pre-K and entering kindergarten classrooms. With funding from RCSD, the early childhood community in Rochester developed a Summer Institute to build relationships and bridge the communications gap. Working in partnership with Head Start, the RCSD Early Childhood Department hosted a week-long summer professional development institute for all Pre-K teachers, both those working in RCSD schools as well as in community based organizations. RCSD invited kindergarten teachers and encouraged them to attend the sessions. The program focused on developmentally appropriate practices in Pre-K and kindergarten classrooms and how teachers can bring experiential learning into the classroom. Specific trainings included administering assessments, conflict resolution strategies, and a training on linking Pre-K to kindergarten academically and developmentally. The Summer Institute has been well received by teachers and attendance grows each year.
As with any new program, the professional development working group will face challenges as they maintain the programs. The school district has experienced turnover among staff and administrators, and preserving current funding may difficult. The professional development working group must communicate with new staff and show results so the school district, Pre-K providers, principals and teachers continue to believe in the programs’ value.
Professional development is a range of learning and support activities designed to prepare individuals for work with and on behalf of young children and their families, as well as ongoing experiences to enhance their work.
In Austin, Texas, there is a feeling that within the early childhood community everyone is working toward a common purpose. Austin is a perfect example of how long it sometimes takes to come together around shared goals. The march to this point began in 1985 when city of Austin Mayor Frank Cooksey first created the Mayor’s Task Force on Childcare. This group of 80 community members recommended the City Council create a “Commission for Child Care,” which evolved into what is today the Early Childhood Council (ECC). The ECC makes recommendations to the City Council on policy and programs to improve the system of high-quality early care and education and after-school programs for Austin's children.
From the beginning, the ECC encouraged collaborative leadership among the biggest policy players in the community. The ECC includes members appointed by the Austin City Council, the Austin Independent School District and the Travis County Commissioners Court. This demonstrated an early commitment to broadly distributed leadership among the city, county and school district as well as other community members. When different organizations come together to solve a problem, there should be an understanding that everyone is on an equal footing and no single organization is in control or has all the answers. This type of leadership encourages shared ownership and builds trust among the organizations. It acknowledges the special expertise of individual organizations and the work they are already doing.
In 2002, in response to data showing many children were not ready for kindergarten, the city of Austin, Travis County and the United Way convened community-wide Early Childhood Stakeholder summits four times a year open to any community member interested in improving early childhood experiences in Austin and Travis County. In 2010, attendees of the Early Childhood Stakeholder Summit developed the School Readiness Action Plan (SRAP). The SRAP is a three-year strategic plan to transform the early childhood system in Austin and Travis County. The plan includes goals, measures of progress, accountability systems and continuous evaluation. A formal group of individuals from different organizations joined to form the School Readiness Action Plan Leadership Team to put the plan into action. This group is coordinated by the United Way and consists of members from the city, the county, the school district, the local community college, Workforce Solutions and organizations involved in planning and funding early childhood programming. Member organizations signed a cooperative agreement agreeing to appoint a representative to the leadership team, complete action items, promote the plan and align their organizations’ programs and policies with the SRAP. Collaborative leadership is a hallmark of this entity, with the United Way convening the group in partnership with Travis County and the city of Austin. Leadership Team members act as advisors to the overall SRAP and all early childhood stakeholders contribute the resources necessary to implement the shared plan.
The early childhood structure that exists in Austin and Travis County today developed over the course of 30 years. In its current form, the structure consists of Early Childhood Stakeholders, the School Readiness Action Plan Leadership Team and the ECC, which makes recommendations to the Austin City Council. All three entities have a shared objective and overlapping members. When the School Readiness Action Plan Leadership Team identifies a need for a policy, they filter that information to the ECC which then makes a recommendation to the City Council. Individuals are also taking information and action items back to their respective organizations to influence organization level policy and programs.
As a result, the large and small players aligned their goals across Austin’s early childhood community. For instance, after a recommendation from the ECC, the Austin City Council endorsed the SRAP and required that any service provider receiving city funds must align their program with the plan.
In another example, the SRAP Leadership Team and the ECC strategically positioned themselves as valuable resources and strong advocates on early childhood care and education as a new mayor and 11 new city councilmembers took their seats on a restructured Austin City Council in January 2015. They sent the new councilmembers a welcome letter describing the purpose and accomplishments of the ECC and their ongoing responsibilities to the city council. The United Way and ECC hosted an early childhood breakfast briefing for city councilmembers and staff to provide an update on the current SRAP and other issues related to early learning. Each ECC member also meets with local leaders to educate them about current early childhood issues, the work of the ECC, the SRAP and opportunities for staff to support the plan’s goals. The division of labor shows a commitment to shared responsibility for informing local leaders and cultivating support for the SRAP and early childhood care and education in Austin.
This practice of shared leadership provides a sense of shared input and ownership, and has contributed to the sustainability of the partnerships behind the action plan as evidenced by the lack of turf issues seen in many communities. They are now on their second SRAP for 2015-2018 and have shown major improvements in how the early childhood community works together and progress toward many of their shared goals.