Multnomah County’s Preschool for All Task Force kicked off in September 2018 and has been moving swiftly ever since! Chaired by Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson and vice-chaired by SVP Portland Partner Mark Holloway, the Task Force is comprised of key leaders across sectors, including a number of SVP Community Partners: KairosPDX, Latino Network, the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), and the Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA). Along with leaders from other sectors, such as K-12, higher education, businesses, and philanthropists, they are charged with identifying how we can bring universal preschool for Multnomah County and what that program would look like.
At SVP’s Annual Partner Gathering on April 25, 2019, the Commissioner spoke to the work of the Task Force, recognized the Partners who have played key roles in this process, and beeseached the Partnership to continue working toward every child having equitable access to high-quality, culturally-specific early learning experiences.
“This partnership shows SVP’s commitment to uplift and invest in culturally-specific organizations,” the Commissioner said. “The investment in early childhood education isn’t cheap but it is cost effective. I’m looking to SVP Partners to be strong leaders, ambassadors, and champions of this work.”
Indeed, SVP Portland Partners have already begun to answer the Commissioner’s call. Our network has been deeply engaged since the Task Force and Work Groups kicked off last year. And like all our investments, Investor Partners have a bilateral relationship with the Community Partner, learning as much as they give. Read below to hear about our Partners’ experiences.
As Vice Chair for the Task Force, Mark Holloway has been an advocate and leader in this effort since day 1. “I am learning that community-based policy making is painstaking, intense, and absolutely worthwhile,” he says. “I’m thrilled about the community’s engagement in this effort—more than 100 people from dozens of organizations, companies, jurisdictions, etc. all engaged with their hearts and minds in what we can make happen in our community. It makes me more confident than ever that we’re going to win Preschool for All to benefit our kids and families and our local economy!”
Alex Lebow has been deeply engaged with the Program & Policy Work Group since it began in September 2018. “It was a pleasure (and an honor) to join so many dedicated early childhood educators and professionals from across the region as part of the Program & Policy working group. While this experience further contextualized the real barriers to universal pre-k, it was inspiring that such a diverse group could align around a common vision and provide sound recommendations to community leaders. The Task Force has been an example of how SVP can demonstrate leadership and continue driving change through a new form of advocacy and community engagement. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to serve in this capacity.”
Christyn Dundorf has not only engaged in the Program & Policy Work Group, but has co-facilitated the Workforce Work Group. Reflecting on the charge of that team, she states: “Issues surrounding workforce development are complex and multifaceted. The work group structure has been vital to bringing expertise to the table to make collaborative and well-informed recommendations. The workforce is fragmented and exists in a state of scarcity—hard work, low wages, few benefits. It is difficult to contemplate change within this state of scarcity. However, the workforce work group has done some phenomenal work to imagine a system providing access to and support for professional development, competence and credentialing. This has been a challenging and highly rewarding experience.”
Teresa Gonczy O’Rourke understands that we must invest in the early childhood workforce to create change on a systems level. “I have been so impressed by the other people in the Workforce Work Group. Everyone has brought a wide range of experiences to the table, and really focused on tackling the hard questions without skipping to the easy answers. I am hopeful that the Task Force recommendations and the eventual Preschool For All programming will help the early childhood workforce become even stronger than it is right now, so Multnomah County’s children are taken care of by teachers who are taken care of.”
As part of the Infrastructure Work Group, Craig Kelley is focused on making sure that all families have affordable places and spaces to meet their needs. “Holding the meetings at different facilities around the County and hearing from providers has been eye-opening. Creating early learning spaces that provide family choice, reduce disparities, and are economically viable requires an ‘all of the above’ strategy for in-home providers, centers, and school-based programs. Incentives, integrated capital, and technical assistance are needed to support growth for all of these models.”
Through the Finance Strategy & Administration Work Group, Jason Hardaway is dedicated to figuring out the funding in order to make this initiative come to fruition. “I found the experience to be extremely dynamic, thoughtful, and positive. It was a collection of very bright people setting out to solve a very complicated issue, and I was delighted to be a small part of a very comprehensive and experienced team.”
Larry Fox, also on the Finance Strategy & Administration Work Group, is energized by the work already being done to create large-scale change. “The Task Force experience has shown that while so much negative news dominates the airwaves, civically- and philanthropically-motivated people can move forward with practical thinking and determination to map out a path to success and change the climate of opinion around an issue that has history on its side.”
Clare Wilkinson joined the team in 2019 to develop the final recommendations report. “My impressions are on a couple of levels,” she says. “One is that I’ve been inspired to see the level of commitment and passion to make universal preschool a reality from such a varied range of stakeholders. Another is that being relatively new to the area, being involved has afforded me a unique insight into the many facets that the project entails—disparities in access across rural and urban areas, based on socio-economic demographics, ethnicity etc. And I’m very hopeful that such a thorough and thoughtful approach will provide the route map for ensuring that we can enable universal access and, crucially, creating parity of compensation for our vital early years practitioners with their kinder peers.”