New England Mayors Help Each Other Address Early Education Goals

By Karpman, Michael | Nation's Cities Weekly, December 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

New England Mayors Help Each Other Address Early Education Goals


Karpman, Michael, Nation's Cities Weekly


Hartford, Conn., Mayor Pedro E. Segarra and Providence, R.I., Mayor Angel Taveras brought teams of senior municipal and school district staff to Boston last week for a regional convening of the Mayors' Institute on Children and Families, the fourth session of a permanent series sponsored by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families. The mayors presented in-depth descriptions of a common challenge they are addressing in their communities: how to improve educational outcomes for children by ensuring they are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

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Mayor Thomas M. Menino welcomed his peers to Boston and discussed why he believes early literacy should be a top priority for all levels of government. "We're aiming our resources at the wrong place," said Menino at a December 13 opening session. "We need to focus on young families, intervening early when children are born. When kids get off to a good start, the later issues take care of themselves."

Mayors Segarra and Taveras presented detailed case statements of the specific problems related to early education that they are trying to solve, the local context shaping their efforts, and questions for Mayors' Institute session participants on how to achieve their goals. After each mayor presented his case statement, leading practitioners, city staff and academic experts from as nearby as Springfield, Mass., and as far away as Jacksonville, Fla., responded with practical suggestions during a set of interactive, problem-solving discussions.

Focus on Young Children

With new research showing that third-grade reading proficiency is a critical educational milestone and predictor of high school graduation rates, city and philanthropic leaders are supporting a national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. NLC is a major campaign partner and will provide assistance to cities that apply for the National Civic League's 2012 All-America City Grade-Level Reading Award. More than 150 communities have expressed intent to apply.

However, raising reading proficiency levels and strengthening this critical segment of the educational pipeline will require a high-level, citywide commitment. In Hartford, Mayor Segarra has made that commitment by supporting a Blueprint for Young Children and a Kindergarten Readiness Initiative to align early education across pre-K and elementary school systems. Currently, there are weak connections between preschool providers and public school kindergarten teachers and administrators, and little alignment of standards and curricula.

Moreover, approximately one-quarter of young children in Hartford receive care in informal settings from family, friends and neighbors (FFN). While the city has worked with Social Solutions to develop the cutting-edge, cross-agency Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) data system, it is not yet connected to pre-kindergarten education providers, and no data exists on the kindergarten readiness of children in FFN care. Yet Hartford leaders are aware that the city's troubling achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers begins early in life.

In response, Mayor Segarra--who has the authority to appoint a majority of Hartford Public Schools Board of Education members--is supporting policies to facilitate smoother transitions to school, including a simpler kindergarten registration process; more active parent engagement; aligned curricula, assessments and professional development; and better information sharing between preschool and public school teachers. …

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