How to Move Early Ed Forward: Interview with Kim Davenport
Massachusetts should be leading on education, but when it comes to early ed we’re falling behind. As a result, dedicated educators are innovating and finding ways to link families, teachers and school systems together more efficiently.
Kim Davenport is the Managing Director for Birth to 3rd Grade Alignment at Edward Street Child Services, she has over 25 years of experience in early education and nonprofit management and has dedicated her career to improving the education of Massachusetts children. Spend time talking to teachers on the ground, and you will see that we have the tools we need to create a much better system for our children, but, as Kim said to me, “The will and mindshare is growing, but the dollars are not yet flowing.”
Massachusetts Fair Share: What would you say is the biggest challenge our kids face when they begin kindergarten without attending preschool?
Kim Davenport: The biggest challenge for educators is the wide array of needs to meet. As the entry point into public education, children arrive in kindergarten with an array of early experiences and are at many different levels of development.
Children who have attended preschool have greater social skills – playing and working with others, problem-solving, negotiating conflict, attention and persistence; they have early literacy and math skills that create a solid foundation for skill development; and they are ready to participate in a classroom because they know how they work – routines, turn-taking, materials, etc.
In some communities, English language learner needs may be greater for children who have not participated in preschool.
MAFS:. I assume the state’s shrinking funding over the last 15 years has affected your work, is that fair to say? What impacts have you noticed?
KD: Shrinking funding has impacted the work of many individuals, programs and schools whose primary work focuses on children’s development.
Reductions in funding have led to dim or darkened classrooms and the minimal expansion (sometimes retraction) in programs that drive results for children and their families. Our state’s waitlist for early education and care is devastatingly high – 26,000 and counting.
And grants that once supported specific features of high quality early learning and kindergarten have been eliminated leaving programs and districts scrambling to recoup funding. At precisely the time when brain science and economics tell us that investment in early education is critical and that the investment pays off, we continue to see receding funding. We need to see a sustained commitment to funding that provides compensation level to attract and retain educators, and maintain. I know many people at a local and state level are trying to figure out the funding mechanism that will make this work. The will and mindshare is growing, but the dollars are not yet flowing.
MAFS: You created the first national early education teaching fellowship program, the Pearson Teacher Fellowship, which launched the careers of nearly 150 early childhood teachers. What was your motivation in creating this program and why was there a need for it?
KD: At that time I was working with jumpstart for young children and our mission was centered around preparing children to succeed in school, so they’d be ready for kindergarten and go on to lead successful lives. So we needed talented individuals who were making career choices to choose early learning and we had a fantastic opportunity with Pearson to recruit young, talented students who were graduating from college who had chosen early learning as their field. And to get them started, they had great jumpstart experience and then we created a fellowship program to bridge them into their first years of teaching.
Those early years are really challenging, it’s kind of a “survival” feel for many educators and so we had to do a few things; prepare them with some stronger training, ensure that we could help them find great positions that would be good fits for them and then support them with mentoring and other forms of support throughout the first few years so that they could get into the field and really see themselves as a long-term professional.
MAFS: What do you do to keep programs high-quality? What can the state do to support that and build on successful programs?
KD: I think the real work is happening on the ground with educators and their leadership at their centers, we have a tremendously and deeply committed group of individuals that are working everyday to make sure that quality is alive and present in our field and I think that the role that I have been able to play is to highlight new and compelling research and new and compelling programs, to listen hard to our team of early educators to learn what they need, where are the gaps, and what type of training would they prefer and then providing those opportunities.
MAFS: From an educational standpoint, if you had one piece of advice you could give to parents on preparing their child for school what would it be?
KD: Talk, Read, Sing, Play with your children. Talk and read every day – in the language you are comfortable in. Children need rich conversations to develop their vocabulary and deepen their knowledge. Singing and playing with you is also how children learn. The time you invest now – even just 20 minutes a day reading – pays big dividends later in children’s growth and development.