The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund seeks to improve school success for all children, with a strong focus on the years from birth to age eight. The Memorial Fund’s programs include Discovery (funded at $3.575 million in 2010) and Educational Improvement ($700,000 in 2010).
The Discovery initiative aims to create an early childhood system that ensures early learning success for all children by supporting community change and policy reform efforts. At the Memorial Fund we believe that through collaborative work with communities, statewide partners and government agencies, Discovery contributes to a common goal:
Connecticut children of all races and income levels are ready for school by age five and are successful learners by age nine.
The Memorial Fund has made a long-term investment in Discovery, which is in the ninthyear of a 14-year initiative. Discovery offers grants and capacity building to 52 communities and six statewide partners. Currently Discovery offers capacity building in the areas of collaboration, parent engagement, results-based accountability, community planning and decision-making and facilitative leadership. Other Discovery supports include convening, facilitation, knowledge sharing, communications, and partnerships.
Research findings show that the quality of early childhood experiences improves young children’s growth and learning in ways that dramatically affect the rest of their lives. In Connecticut, local early childhood councils have already been established in one-third of our cities and towns. The councils are taking responsibility for addressing the complex needs of young children and their families, developing plans for meeting those needs, and building agreements for action with all groups with a stake in the lives of children.
Many states are also beginning to develop early childhood councils with elements such as a rating system to help parents find high quality care education programs, uniform teaching credentials to ensure that teachers have the training they need to nurture young children, and state governance and financing structures that ensure access to all children. Connecticut has worked diligently on many of these elements. As a state, we are still challenged to create a coherent, effective early childhood system.
Our own experience over the last 15 years in working with Connecticut communities has led us to understand that, in order for all children to have access to high quality programs, we need:
- Local early childhood councils that have the authority to allocate resources,
- Parent leadership on the council and in programs that serve children
- Networks of people who analyze, reflect, organize, and act on behalf of children,
- Local leadership in both municipal government and the school system that is fully aware and engaged in early childhood care and education,
- A statewide council or structure that builds on the strengths of local early childhood councils and supports their work,
- Results-based state and community plans to guide decisions about how resources are used,
- Effective communication and coordination among state and local efforts, and
- Ways to measure both local and statewide progress.
For the next five years, Discovery will continue to help build an early childhood system at both the state and local levels with communities as full partners from creating the vision to implementation. Within this work, Discovery will concentrate on four areas:
- Increased parent engagement and leadership in early care and education through information, support and leadership development. Many Discovery communities support all three approaches; the Memorial Fund will continue to focus its resources on parent leadership training.
- Improved quality of and access to family- and center-based early care and education. The Memorial Fund sees the expansion of high quality family-based care as critical for many working parents, parents of very young children, and others in under-served neighborhoods.
- Improved quality of PreK-3 education and early language and literacy. In partnership with the State Department of Education, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Connecticut Center for School Change, the Memorial Fund will support a pilot community in developing multi-generational, school and community strategies for improving early literacy and raising reading scores on the third grade Connecticut Mastery Tests.
- Increased state and local capacity to set goals, measure progress and encourage those most affected to share their own stories. The Memorial Fund will work with communities and state partners to gather and translate data and experience into stories that can engage citizens, question what does not work, and promote better solutions that support the development of young children.
Through a long-standing partnership with the Connecticut Center for School Change, the Memorial Fund supports district-wide instructional improvement, leadership among superintendents, principals and teachers. The Center also provides a Kindergarten Transition Institute, and Parents Supporting Educational Excellence (ParentSEE) – a leadership development program for parents working to improve schools.
In addition, the Memorial Fund will support advocacy efforts that aim to reduce disparities in educational outcomes for children whom the current system does not serve well.
Discovery 2010-14 Strategies and Actions
Strategy 1: Build an early childhood system at both the state and local levels with communities as full partners from creating the vision to implementation.
The Memorial Fund will continue to support local planning and action in up to 52 communities. Grants and intensive technical assistance will support at least 10 communities to implement local early childhood plans already developed, and up to 20 communities to develop new plans. Smaller grants will fund projects in other communities committed to pursuing Discovery’s goal.
The Memorial Fund will continue to support communities and statewide grantees to pursue a common policy and practice agenda and to find ways to measure progress.
Starting in 2010, the Memorial Fund will convene communities, statewide organizations, state agencies, policymakers and other stakeholders to create a vision for a more effective early childhood system in Connecticut. We will underwrite facilitation support, expertise, advocacy, research and communications.
The Memorial Fund will support a research agenda about early childhood systems and the roles that community decision-making, parent leadership and policy change play in systemic change.
Strategy 2: Increase parent engagement and leadership in early care and education through information, support and leadership development opportunities.
The Memorial Fund will help local early childhood councils to provide parents with information, connections to services and leadership development opportunities.
The Memorial Fund will continue to challenge the State and other potential funders with matching dollars to provide parent leadership training.
The Memorial Fund will underwrite advocacy for parent leadership and help to create an online network of alumni who want to be engaged in local and statewide children’s issues.
The Memorial Fund will research and link communities to online resources about parenting and child development.
Strategy 3: Improve the quality of and access to family- and center-based early care and education for children from birth through age five.
The Memorial Fund will make grants for advocacy to address quality improvement, workforce development and other means that promote voluntary preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and expand services for infants and toddlers.
The Memorial Fund’s community grants will enable local early childhood councils to improve quality and access to early care.
The Memorial Fund will research the role of school districts in providing early childhood education.
In partnership with All Our Kin, the Memorial Fund will help family care providers by developing community networks that can offer accreditation, professional development, business management and other assistance.
Strategy 4: Improve the quality of PreK-3 education in ways that increase early language and literacy development among all children and promote continuity of a child’s learning from preschool through third grade.
The Memorial Fund will co-invest with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the State Department of Education to pilot in one community a broad-based initiative to increase literacy by grade three. The pilot will draw on multi-generational approaches, community-engagement strategies, and the instructional improvement expertise of the Connecticut Center for School Change.
With our partners, we will share the lessons of the early literacy initiative with other communities, and will support advocacy efforts aimed at improving literacy statewide.
The Memorial Fund will undertake research and share information about best practices for school improvement, including potential roles for state agencies, local districts and public/private partnerships.
The Memorial Fund will support tools and training to help communities align policy and practice from preschool to grade three, starting with the Kindergarten-Transition Institute.
Strategy 5: Increase state and local capacity to set goals, measure progress and encourage those most affected to share their own stories.
The Memorial Fund will work with communities and state partners to gather and translate data and experience into stories that can engage citizens, question what does not work, and promote better solutions that support the development of young children.
The Memorial Fund will research and share effective methods that blend measurement and storytelling to help partners identify the questions they want to answer and acquire the skills needed to tell their stories.
The Memorial Fund will continue to support the work of partners to advocate for better access to data, to develop a shared agenda for improving data, and to increase effectiveness of data collection and its use.
The Memorial Fund will work with all grantees to identify a common set of indicators/performance measures to show progress within the work supported by Discovery.