Author Archives: dchin

Voice from the Field: Celia Ayala

“I think that we as a country need to care about all of our children, not only our own children.”
Interview with Celia Ayala
Chief Executive Officer, Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP)

Celia Ayala

 by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Celia Ayala oversees LAUP‘s long-term strategy and day-to-day operations, with the goal of increasing access to quality and affordable preschool for children across Los Angeles County. Under Dr. Ayala’s leadership, LAUP is successfully funding the enrollment of more than 10,000 children into quality preschool each year. Recently, LAUP created “Take Time. Talk!” as a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America commitment.

Steven: Can you talk a little bit about how you began your career in early learning?

Celia: I grew up with lots of children around me, but I think I can recall making a difference when I was a teacher assistant at 32nd Street Elementary. I was assisting in first and second grade classrooms, and I saw how one student did not know his ABCs. He was so limited in his language skills. His social skills were not well developed either. I remember spending so much time working with him, and just getting him to speak and getting him to ultimately feel comfortable with who he was. I didn’t realize that I could make a difference in a child’s life. But it was really in my second time of being a principal and having three big preschool classrooms that were for 3 and 4 year olds. I had children that had been in preschool and children that had not. I realized kindergarten is not where education starts, and I had been a kindergarten teacher in the 70s. And here I was in the late 90s, and realized that we need to do more in early education and working with parents – parents being the first and most important teachers. We can do so much more in kinder readiness. We needed to work with our 3 and 4 years-olds to get them socially, emotionally and cognitively ready for kindergarten.

Steven: What do see as the role of LAUP and local communities in improving the quality of early learning?

Celia: I see LAUP as a great brainstorm of a child that created something first and foremost about quality and all the support systems with no excuses. So it wasn’t an issue of if we could afford it, it wasn’t an issue of can we do it, and it wasn’t an issue of who could do it. It was building in quality criteria without any limitations. LAUP wanted to be a part of helping each child, east to west and in between, in communities with a mixed-model delivery system and to think about what is the best model without excuses or without limitations. And I believe that LAUP has become a very replicable model, truly addressing the local needs of every community in every part of Los Angeles County. We address the local needs of every community with a quality rating improvement system that is applicable to all of its mixed-model delivery partners. It is not LAUP and then the community. We are part of every community, providing quality programs.

Steven: Can you tell me why the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning and development programs for children is important for our country, and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities?

Celia: I think the President is smart because he wants to provide equity. By providing high-quality early learning opportunities, it is truly giving children a chance to enter the K-12 world on an even playing field. And it is about involving families and caregivers – because some of our children don’t live with parents, but with grandparents or foster parents – to work with our children where every they might be – a center, school district, or a non-profit. He sees that the benefit in the short term is the child, but in the long term, it is our entire society by preparing the future workforce. The children entering kindergarten need to be ready to succeed in school and in life, but it is also the workforce that we need to focus on because they are preparing our future engineers, our future teachers, and our future plumbers. I truly believe he is seeing the short term and long term benefits of these early investments and interventions. I think the challenges are that people don’t get the importance. They are not seeing that we are spending dollars on remediation instead of intervention. They’re not seeing that it’s not only a short term investment for the children, but an investment in the long term for our country. The challenges are we cannot get a budget to support it. And then there is a challenge in terms of making sure that we see that in the long term it is going to take time to ramp up, to staff up, and to sustain over time – that this is a long term investment in local communities, in our states, and in the nation. Those are the challenges: we’re not identifying the resources to support this and we’re not seeing this as potentially a ten year ramp up and sustainable effort that will hopefully benefit our country socially, economically, and educationally.

Voice from the Field: Betty Hyde

“China’s doing it. Everybody’s doing it. It’s time that we become an early learning nation too.”
Interview with Betty Hyde
Director of the Department of Early Learning (DEL), Washington State

Betty Hyde

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Dr. Bette Hyde was appointed Director of the Department of Early Learning (DEL) by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Feb. 10, 2009. Bette’s focus is on creating one statewide early learning system that prepares all Washington children for school and life. She strongly believes that school-readiness means ready schools, ready children, ready families and ready communities. Washington is a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grantee.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Bette: I spent the first 32 years of my life in the K-12 system and early on I was in what we called an Intermediate School District and a Supervised Head Start. But really I started when I was Superintendent for Emergent Schools and we would have kindergarten round-up. And we would know with great certainty which kids were going to make it on the first day of kindergarten and which not. And we just thought that is really awful. And so we thought what can we do about that? And so we did the research at that time, when early learning was just coming to be. So we decided to partner with the child care programs in our community. We spent the first year just sitting around, having coffee, looking at brain research, getting to know them, eating cookies, you know, that kind of thing.

Then we asked them to help us. And they decided that they wanted to help with literacy and we thought “Great!” The Bremerton School District is a school district with about 7,000 children, a K-12 district: now it’s a P-12 district. But it was in great poverty, a military town, so there was a lot of need. And to make a long story short, we spent another year with them looking at various curricula. They chose the curricula, and then we used our Title I money on the condition that they participate in professional development, that they used it with fidelity and so forth. And I was at Brandy’s Superintendent in Bremerton and at one of my first Board meetings I remember saying to the School Board, “well based on the sub-test that we’re using, about 4-6% of our kids are ready.” A board member asked “did you say 46?” And I said “No! I said 4-6.” And everybody went my gosh, we have to do something. And so, that first year, that 4-6 percentage on the DIBELS, or whatever we were using at the time, jumped up to 55%. I mean this is phenomenal. And then we decided the next year, well let’s get the kids most at-risk and put them in for full-day kindergarten. And although that’s so common now it wasn’t so common then. And so, we then used Title I money, and we started the year having the afternoon kindergarten classes smaller. Most parents want their kids in the morning anyway, so that was easy to do. And at the end of October, not sooner, the kindergarten teachers really identified the kids that were behind. Then we invited their parents to have them stay a full day. We would buy their lunch and transport them. And they just simply got a double dose. You know, morning and afternoon with the same teacher. And that bumped our scores up, you know, to something like 80%. And we thought well gosh, if all day kindergarten works for them, it probably works for everybody. We offered free all-day kindergarten and were the first in our little peninsula of the state. And honestly Steven, you know, it was like a lingerie sale. People lined up around the block, you know. People from other districts came and enrolled. And a huge majority of people stayed with us through elementary school and probably beyond. So that was a long answer to a short question. But being in the K-12 system and just looking at these children who come in the first day of school, you know which ones are likely to make it and which ones aren’t. They have the whole rest of their life ahead of them. And so we decided, we gotta do something about that. And so that’s what we did.

Steven: What do you see is the role of public schools and districts in improving the quality of early learning?

Betty: I think it is the responsibility of all of us educators, to be cognizant of what the research says about what helps children learn. And you have to be almost illiterate to not know that early learning is a critical part of that if done with quality. I think the role of the public school is to be aware of that and each district, in their own way, embrace early learning. I have had conversations with, for example, the superintendent of Bellingham, which is a relatively big district north of Seattle. He was asking, “Do you start with all day kindergarten? Do you start with preschool?” And I said, “You can start with what works best for your community.” You know, there’s no formula. But you want to have a complete continuum. And you want to make sure, like all the research says, that it’s quality from the beginning, quality all the way through- that you have good transitions from the early learning to the K-12 system. In Bremerton we used to have what we called ‘the hand-off’ and the early learning teachers would sit down with the kindergarten teachers and talk about each child in some detail. First grade teachers would talk to second grade teachers and so forth. And so I think, it behooves the school districts to see this is a big part of how we can make our children ready for common core, or for the increasingly complex world that they’re entering out there.

So I think their role is to be not be passive, or not, certainly not resistant, but to say, “How can we as a school district do what works in our school district, to begin early learning, to embrace it?” Can we give space in our schools for preschool classrooms? In our state we have our law that says if you are transporting kids and preschool kids are at the same bus stop, and they’re going to your preschool program, you can transport them too and get reimbursed. Things like that that really help school districts say they’re really our communities. You know, I talkwith my principles in Bremerton and I say “What do you know about the incoming kindergarteners? They’re our children, go find out about them and start talking to the preschools and the child care programs in your area.” You know, they’re part of the community team that you have to utilize to really get kids ready. Since then, Steven, we’ve had all this great research, at Harvard and other places, about how incredible the brain develops and so, so early- much earlier than we thought. So we would all be fools not to work together as a community team to say these are all our children, these are all our families. How can we each do our part and make them most successful?

Steven: Why is the President’s proposal to provide high quality early learning and development programs important for our country and what do you see as some of the challenges and the opportunities with that?

Betty: I think it’s important for a number of reasons. I don’t know to say this politically correctly, but it keeps us up with our international neighbors. You know, other people have been doing this for a long time. Many years ago I visited the UK and Finland and they were doing this, and have been doing it. China’s doing it. Everybody’s doing it. It’s time that we become an early learning nation too. He [President Obama] is cognizant of that, his advisors are cognizant of that, you guys are probably cognizant of that. He’s moving our country up internationally like it should be. Secondly, I like his plan because it is really well grounded in the research – what works. Again he’s got good advice about what to do. Thirdly, it’s not just like here’s something let’s do that. But he has this whole comprehensive plan. When he had his early learning summit, it was very, very clear in his planning that it’s not just one program. But he’s talking about home visiting, he’s talking about Early Head Start – Child Care partnerships, he’s talking about preschool. Oh and by the way he preceded that with Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge to build the infrastructure in states. And now I think this ESEA reauthorization is just a godsend in terms of how it really pulls out the importance of quality, full day and so forth. And I can support that it’s the national bully pulpit, he is president. And the fact that he is really hunkering down and fighting for this speaks volumes. He has lots of other things on his mind.

But this is always really in the forefront. It’s not just, the flavor of the month. He’s coming up with a more comprehensive, inclusive, evidence-based, research-based plan. So I really applaud the administration. I just think they are spot-on in terms of what really works to get kids ready for school and kindergarten and beyond. Now what’s the challenges of it? I suppose the States’ readiness for this. I think different states are in different places. We are blessed in Washington because we have good rapport across the aisles and across the parties. But I’m not sure that’s true everywhere. Every state has a different readiness for this. And so that might be stopping some legislators and governors, but I think it’s getting better and better. I think secondly, different states – and its related – have different infrastructures and data readiness. I mean, even if all the elected officials said we want to do this, you have to have a plan, you have to have some buy in – perhaps from unions depending on the state. How are you going to measure your impact? And you don’t just do that in a month. That takes a while to do. But because he’s doing this and it’s so comprehensive and it keeps happening, there is kind of a national hype. Kind of what people used to call a zeitgeist for early learning. You know, we often in Washington talk to other states, either to help them or to ask how are you doing this, and there seems to be not a possessiveness. People are pretty darn eager to share in terms of breaking down silos. I think a great opportunity is something you folks modeled with the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants. I remember very clearly that at every meeting we were at ED was there and HHS was there, the whole time. People didn’t just float in and out. People were kind of modeling with their feet. I think this is a teachable moment for early learning. And I think people are pretty eager to jump on the wagon.

Voices from the Field: Yasmina Vinci

“Early learning must focus on the whole child and the whole family”
Interview with Yasmina Vinci
Executive Director, National Head Start Association


by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

This month the Head Start community will celebrate and reflect on the incredible impact Head Start has made on millions of lives over the last 50 years. For half a century Head Start has represented America’s commitment to giving vulnerable children and their families the opportunity to succeed in school and in life. In those fifty years, over 32 million young lives have been transformed by Head Start’s comprehensive approach to early learning – getting at-risk children ready for kindergarten and setting families on a path toward self-sufficiency.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?  

Yasmina: I am convinced that I have always had the very best job in early care and education, and this is why.

First, I learned an incredible amount about low-income children and families as the director of a non-profit child care center in New Jersey. Most of our families were low-income, so we tried to implement a modest imitation of Head Start. Mentored by the Head Start director in our community, we adopted several key aspects of the Head Start model: we had a nurse for two hours in the mornings, a neighboring pediatrician was always on-call, and we even invested in both a full time social worker and an education coordinator. We also were proud to be among the early adopters of NAEYC accreditation. While serving as center director I was appointed to the State Child Care Advisory Council and the Governor’s Employer-Supported Child Care Task Force.

Later, as a state government employee, I managed the Dependent Care Grant and Head Start research, wrote the application for the Head Start-State Collaboration Grant and participated in the planning for the implementation of the original Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). During that intense and energizing period, I became curious about how much early childhood money, other than Head Start, came into the state.  It was quite a chase but my summary (as much as I wondered about the accuracy of the information I was given) was a treasured document, simply because no one had attempted it before.

When all the planning was done and I saw our CCDBG policies in state statute, I was recruited to move to Washington and start NACCRRA (now Child Care Aware America) just as the Clinton Administration was starting.

Fast forward through Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a few other adventures to 2009, when I chose to join the National Head Start Association. I knew, based on my work with the Obama policy teams, that this President was and is committed to progress on behalf of children, families and education. Head Start, as the original, intentionally designed system could be at the center of that nexus but the movement would need to evolve and I’m proud of the change we’ve been able to achieve in 6 short years.

Steven: Why is early learning important for our communities and nation?

Yasmina: The first five years of life represent a critical period of growth and development – a time when walking, talking, self-esteem, vision of the world and moral foundations are established. When children are given the benefit of early childhood education, risk factors can be identified and addressed early, stronger communities forged, and positive early life experiences created so students enter Kindergarten eager and ready to learn.

Learning ABC’s and 123’s, although critical, is not sufficient to fully prepare children to be ready to succeed later in life. Early learning must focus on the whole child and the whole family. That means embracing a comprehensive approach to early learning, which includes home visits, health screenings, improved nutrition and two-generation efforts that provide a foundation for stabilizing the family and home, and ensuring the entire family is prepared and invested in their own lifelong success.

Hundreds of studies over four decades show the significant and meaningful effects Head Start has had on the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable children—lowered need for special education, better health and wellness as teens and adults, higher high school and college graduation rates, and greater participation of parents in their child’s education.

Abundant research indicates Head Start works and stories of Head Start alumni who escaped generational poverty with the help of Head Start prove it.  As Executive Director of NHSA I have travelled cross-country and heard the stories of Head Start alumni who have overcome incredible challenges to give back to their communities as educators, doctors, entrepreneurs, ambassadors, Members of Congress, Mayors and military personnel, to name just a few. By laying a foundation for success in kindergarten, quality early education sets the course for our children to become productive and engaging future members of our community.

How can Head Start programs partner with schools to improve outcomes for young children?

NHSA has studied and described several models of successful partnerships between Head Start and schools and there is no doubt that the entire community benefits when effective partnerships are supported and all resources maximized. We found that the transition from pre-K to kindergarten is a very important part of a child’s early academic years and an emphasis on child development principles needs to continue to inform and drive elementary education until at least third grade.

Head Start’s comprehensive approach, which focuses on the whole child and the whole family, should go beyond pre-K and follow children through their elementary school years. In diverse communities across the country, local schools are embracing the Head Start approach to ensuring children and families continue to receive the innovative and comprehensive support that is laying the foundation for success for these families.

These partnerships are also a critical component of Head Start’s two-generational approach, which emphasizes the importance of engaged parents. Since its beginning the Head Start model has supported parents as they get their education and develop the skills they need for success. Partnerships forged with schools – from elementary schools to local colleges – make it possible for families to get back on the path to self-sufficiency.

Adapting the implementation of Head Start’s rigorous standards to the realities of so many unique communities – and of so many families distinguished from each other by a variety of strengths and risks – the degree of originality with which local programs approach their mission is extraordinary. So much of this partnering and local customization is made possible by Head Start’s federal to local funding model. We look forward to strengthening these partnerships and continuing to lay a foundation for success for our community’s at-risk children.

Steven: What is the role of Head Start in the President’s proposal for early learning (Partnerships, Preschool for All)?

Yasmina: Head Start’s tried and true comprehensive approach to early learning is the model upon which the President has based his early learning proposal, which is aimed specifically at enhancing and expanding the reach of high-quality public preschool programs in our nation’s most vulnerable communities. For 50 years Head Start programs have served the poorest of the poor, developing an innovative, comprehensive approach to early childhood education that has opened windows of opportunity for over 32 million young lives.

Unfortunately, despite these success stories, there remain millions of at-risk children without access to quality learning in their most critical early years. The President’s more than 1 billion dollar investment will help fortify and expand Head Start programs that are preparing children for success, while also supporting parents in getting their families on the path to self-sufficiency. The proposal includes over 200 new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grants, new investments in Evidence-based Home visiting, and funding to expand the duration of the Head Start school day.

The Head Start model centers on communities coming together to support our most vulnerable children with a vision that focuses on the whole-child and the whole family. The commitment from the White House is a powerful step forward in ensuring all our nation’s children are able to benefit from these critical needs and able to reach their full potential later in life.

Steven: What is the National Head Start Association’s role in the national early learning movement?

Yasmina: NHSA is the uniting voice for the millions of families, communities, programs, researchers, and policymakers who are dedicated to supporting the future of our nation’s most at-risk children. As the only national non-profit dedicated to Head Start, NHSA works to bridge the gap between policy makers in Washington and Head Start providers by ensuring that the voices and stories of Head Start staff, teachers, parents and alumni are heard. In addition to advocacy on Capitol Hill, NHSA cultivates, supports, and disseminates innovations and best practices in state-based early learning systems, strengthening dialogue and collaboration between Head Start practitioners and researchers. Through grassroots action, as well as alumni and parent-driven support, NHSA is proud to serve as the voice for more than 1 million children, 200,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grantees in the United States.