Educators work to improve early childhood system

A board of early childhood educators plans to integrate existing programs.
Thursday, April 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:56 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rather than starting from scratch, early childhood educators in Columbia and Boone County propose to improve and integrate existing programs into a streamlined system of early childhood education.

The advisory committee to the Boone County Coordinating Board for Early Childhood Education met for the last time early Wednesday to finalize its recommendations to the board. Board Chairman Philip Peters Jr. will bring those recommendations to the board May 1.

“(The board) will brainstorm how to move forward toward a better system of early education in Boone County,” Peters said after the meeting.

The gist of Wednesday’s meeting was that current early education programs in the area are a good start, but they need to be able to handle more children and work together more seamlessly.

Committee member Jan Frost, of Educare, a caregiver support program, suggested the board help the programs already in place to accommodate more students as well as attract quality teachers.

Since the committee’s meeting on March 21, Peters has pared down a brainstormed list of desired components to six: information about parenting, subsidized high quality early education, family support, teacher development, better teacher pay and a community information campaign.

“While you don’t want to reinvent the wheel, you do need to get up-to-date information from people on the ground,” said Peters, a professor at MU’s School of Law.

The committee members — more than three dozen of them — have ties to various organizations that provide some form of early childhood education or child care, including Parents as Teachers, Title I Preschools, Educare, Jumpstart, Head Start and Early Head Start.

Peters expects the coordinating board will work with the advisory committee’s recommendations to formulate a plan.

“ They’ll see there are lots of options,” Peters said. “I think they will bring a dose of policy realism to the hopes of early educators. They’ll also give us guidance on how to build public support.”

The advisory committee first met on March 1 to come up with the components of an ideal, but not necessarily realistic, system of early childhood education.

In the second meeting on March 21 aimed at coming up with what is possible, Peters provided data from the city, county and Columbia Public Schools. He also provided copies of the recommendations from the district’s Early Childhood Education Task Force. A goal of the meeting was to prioritize ideas and draw up a tentative timeline. That didn’t happen, however, as committee members struggled to figure out the logistics of creating an early childhood education system.

“The first thing I put under (the) parents and guardians (category) was family support, because you can’t begin thinking about high quality child care when you don’t have somewhere to live,” committee member Shirley Patterson, a consultant for the Early Reading First Grant, said at the time. “But I don’t know if the committee can provide all that.”

The committee did not identify a clear priority, although family support, teacher development and improved pay for teachers seemed to come out on top.

“We seem to be having some problems defining exactly what our job is in the committee,” Patterson said March 21. “I think the problem is that we haven’t clearly defined for the public what the difference between child care and early childhood education is.”

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