Smart Beginnings launches program

Published 10:49 am Saturday, May 16, 2009

FRANKLIN—Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater got off to a “great beginning” last week when about 40 community leaders met at the Paul D. Camp Workforce Development Center to launch a program aimed at improving children’s readiness for school.

From government agencies, the judicial system, school systems and social services, to the United Way, Children’s Center, Head Start and the State Early Childhood Foundation, this collaborative group joined Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater to formulate plans to help the area’s youngest residents — ages birth to 5 — start kindergarten ready to learn.

“Studies show that 90 percent of brain development occurs in the first five years of life, however, little support is given to prepare these children for school,” said Connie Burgess, director of SBWT. “The result is that far too many of them start school unprepared.

“Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater wants to change that. We’re committed to school readiness—ready families, ready services, ready communities, ready schools and ready children.”

Called the Results Leadership Project, the process is a communitywide effort to ensure that all children in this age group in Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties enter school healthy and ready to learn. Using the Results Based Accountability (RBA) model, an element of the process is including community leaders to implement positive changes in our community.

The first two-day session was led by Phil Lee, president of the Results Leadership Group LLC, and Senior Fellow University of Maryland Public Policy. Lee also will conduct the other sessions, which will run through March.

“Results Based Accountability (RBA) is a rigorous and demanding approach to community collaboration,” he said. “The members of Smart Beginnings have adopted RBA because they are committed to getting results — to have all children in Western Tidewater entering kindergarten ready to succeed.

“Furthermore, because they consider school readiness a lynchpin to the quality of life in the community, they intend to make Smart Beginnings a permanent mainstay of Western Tidewater.”

Said Melissa King, VECF program officer and SBWT Community Accountability partner, “It’s wonderful to be part of Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater’s Results Leadership team.

“The VECF and Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater are committed to strong results-based measurement outcomes for all of the community’s early learning programs and services. Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater is one of 21 Smart Beginnings Coalitions in the state supported by the VECF and have brought together an impressive group of committed community and business leaders to support school readiness.

“This type of collaboration will undoubtedly benefit the region’s youngest citizens in the important years from birth to five so they will start kindergarten healthy and ready to learn.”

Prior to SBWT’s RLP meeting, Burgess said her organization sponsored a Quality Rating and Improvement System Pilot program, also held at the Workforce Center.

“This is a method (QRIS) to assess, improve and communicate the level of quality in early care and education settings that families consider for their children.

“At the two-day session held here,” Burgess said, “we had representatives of Early Head Start, Head Start and children’s centers who were given an overview of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). They also received additional training on nutrition and center activities.”

“These programs are needed here,” Burgess went on. “I echo a comment I read in a recent editorial — ‘We must keep the children of today from becoming the criminals of tomorrow.’ Education, of course, is the key.”