New director takes helm at Smart Beginnings

Published 8:46 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009

FRANKLIN—Ellen Darden Couch, a teacher and administrator from Isle of Wight County Schools, is the new executive director of Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater.

Couch takes over for Connie Burgess, who returned to her teaching career on Aug. 24 at Riverdale Elementary School.

“I have big shoes to fill with Connie leaving,” Couch said Tuesday.

Couch has an Educational Specialist Degree in Administration and Supervision from the University of Virginia. She is the mother of two girls, ages 4 and 8.

During her education career, she served as director of the former Grandma’s House day care center in Smithfield, and was an adjunct professor at the Smithfield Campus of Paul D. Camp Community College. She was an interim assistant principal at Carrollton Elementary School in Isle of Wight County, and was also a third grade teacher at that school and a reading instructor for that county division.

Since 2005, Couch has served as the leader of early intervention services with Isle of Wight County Schools.

“We are very excited about the future of Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater,” Martha Kello, president of Smart Beginnings’ Board of Directors, said in a written statement. “I am confident we have hired a strong leader to continue to advance the work of our great organization that serves the children and families of Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight.”

Couch said 2010 would be a big year for SBWT.

“We’re going to have lots of new initiatives coming forth in the coming year,” Couch said. “I don’t want to reveal anything just yet, but look for lots of new innovative approaches to helping the community know what they need to do to prepare their children for kindergarten.”

Those initiatives, Couch said, would involve working with local day-care centers, Head Start, school divisions and government.

“We hope to move some programs forward, hopefully this year.”

Couch said informing the public and helping parents are the biggest challenges for SBWT.

“Parents these days are working, they’re very busy, and it’s hard to do everything you need to do to have your children ready for school,” Couch said. “We’re going to help by providing parents with some tip strategies, and by educating them as to what they need to do to help their kids. That way when they get to kindergarten they’re ready for life and success.”

The organization may work more with preschools and day-cares centers to achieve those goals, Couch said.

“We’re working on some initiatives to get out there in the community,” Couch said. “We want to do a lot of hands-on with preschools and day cares, and possibly collaborate more than we have in the past, to help them know what is expected when kids get to kindergarten.”

She added, “A lot of folks think ‘if you just throw them the ABCs then you’ve got everything you need.’ Today you need to know more than just the ABCs when you enter kindergarten. It’s not the same as it was 20, or even 10, years