Early childhood education evaluated by Gov. Northam’s team in Roanoke Valley

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Left to right, Jamie Soltis, Salem Director of Instruction and Career Readiness; Forest Jones, Salem Director of Administrative Services; Curtis Hicks, Assistant Superintendent; Jennifer Dean, Salem Director of Instruction and Innovation; James Lane, Virginia Secretary of Education; Chris Wilkes, Salem High School Assistant Principal; Jeff Bird, Salem High School Assistant Principal; and Randy Jennings, Salem Director of Special Education.

By Shawn Nowlin

How can we make sure that Head Start programs are not in jeopardy due to all of the requirements? What models are currently being followed? Will you consider us for some of your committees and panels? How will family services be impacted for working parents like myself?

Those were just some of the questions asked at the Salem High auditorium on August 15 during a listening session in response to Governor Northam’s recent Executive Directive Four signing, which establishes the Executive Leadership Team on School Readiness

Various administrators (Salem Assistant Superintendent Curtis Hicks, Salem Director of Special Education Randy Jennings, etc.) and heads of agencies (Executive Director of New River Community Action Terry Smusz, Total Action for Progress President Annette Lewis, etc.) were present during the discussion. Representatives from public schools, United Way, local libraries, Social Services, private early childhood care providers and parents also attended the event.

The open forum provided an opportunity for dialogue to commence between Southwest Virginia residents and state representatives who are expected to use the information gathered for future decisions.

Three individuals comprise Governor Northam’s Executive Leadership Team: Jenna Conway, Chief School Readiness Officer; Dr. James Lane, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the VA Dept. of Education; and Duke Storen, Commissioner of VA Social Services.

“This information will help our state leaders develop a system of support to community innovations to make this system more successful. The room was full of positive stories to share with the leadership team, but also respectfully shared challenges and barriers that they and parents face in the current systems,” said Vivien McMahan, Director of Early Learning Strategies for United Way.

          “The need for low cost or free care for at-risk infants and toddlers is needed across the region. Parents need to have more choices available when choosing the care that best fits their family needs that is affordable and high quality,” said Griffith whose responsibilities include serving as the primary point of contact between VDSS and United Way of Roanoke Valley, the VQT and Virginia Quality participants.

Parents can search for programs that are currently participating in Virginia Quality at www.virginiaquality.com. For more information about federal grants, visit: http://www.vecf.org/federal-preschool-development-grant-b-5/

“Representatives shared their concerns and frustrations on matters such as sustainable strategies for children and families to have equal access to preschool, and on tough topics such as low pay for early childhood educators,” Krystall Whitt, United Way Mixed Delivery Preschool Pilot Coordinator, said. “My thoughts on these matters stem from prior experience as an educator in a private school and then as a preschool director. I too am concerned about said matters and longing for sustainable solutions to bring greatly needed ‘lasting’ changes.”

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