First lady Pam Northam launches new early childhood education initiative

Published 10:22 am Friday, June 22, 2018

by Elaine Lidholm

First lady Pamela Northam on Thursday announced a new initiative to bolster early childhood education in Virginia and improve student outcomes for youth across the Commonwealth.

Northam will lead the effort to improve the quality of and access to early childhood education programs across Virginia, support the early childhood education workforce, and ensure that Virginia makes the most of early childhood education resources.

“We believe that all children should have access to opportunities regardless of the circumstances into which they are born. Early childhood education is the best investment we can make in our future workforce,” said Northam. “I look forward to bringing my experience as a parent, therapist, science educator, and environmentalist to continue advocating for our youngest and most vulnerable Virginians.”

She announced that Jenna Conway has been hired as chief deputy at the Virginia Department of Education and will serve as Virginia’s first ever “Chief School Readiness Officer.” Conway will pilot the Northam’s early childhood education initiative and work between secretariats to coordinate policies and resources in order to best serve Virginia’s families and economy. She joins the administration from the Louisiana Department of Education, where she led a first-of-its-kind effort to unify and improve the state’s child care, Head Start and Pre-K systems.

“The investments we make in our children today will have long-term returns for their lives and the strength of Virginia’s economy,” said Gov. Ralph S. Northam. “I am so proud to work alongside our first lady and these members of my cabinet to ensure that our Commonwealth takes every step it can to ensure that every child can succeed here in Virginia no matter who they are or where they live.”

Former governor Terry McAuliffe established the first Children’s Cabinet in Virginia in 2014 and today, Gov. Northam signed an executive order forming a new Children’s Cabinet that will be chaired by his wife.

Members of the Children’s Cabinet will include Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran.

The Children’s Cabinet will prioritize issues including early childhood development and school readiness, nutrition and food security, and systems of care and safety for school-aged youth.