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Advocating for the youngest Georgians: GEEARS gets everyone behind early education

Using advocacy, policy research and development, and public engagement, GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students works with private partners, government agencies, and family partnership to support pre-K care across the state. 

Established in 2010, GEEARS began in part because of findings by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning that said almost two-thirds of infants in Georgia childcare were receiving sub-par services. “With all we know about brain development and the importance of early childhood education,” said GEEARS Executive Director Mindy Binderman, “that was a clarion call.”

To find out how they’ve been turning the system around in Georgia, and planning to keep up momentum, we put in a call to Binderman at her uptown Atlanta office.

What challenges does Georgia’s pre-K care system currently face?

We’re continuing to raise awareness of the system, raise childcare quality in the system, and raise dollars to support the system. We’re developing policy research and advocates, conducting public education on a range of issues, and working on a national level to secure funding and support.

We still have a lot of challenges in Georgia. Making sure parents are able to identify, access, and pay for quality care. Working to reduce class size. And funding teacher salaries—even our great pre-K teachers often leave because they can make much more money in a kindergarten classroom. We need to ensure parity so we can ensure we have high-quality, engaged, happy teachers.

How does GEEARS engage partners across sectors, and for a cause that may not seem an obvious fit?

From the outset, one of our goals was to reach not just the usual messengers. For example, we’ve joined with the Georgia Vision Project for Public Education, which helped us reach school superintendents and K-12 teachers, and we’ve also worked with Mission Readiness, a national organization comprised of retired generals who speak on early education issues.

And in 2012, GEEARS and a national organization called Ready Nation, with support from several foundations, hosted a national business leaders’ summit on the importance of early childhood education. The summit gave national and local leaders tools to educate themselves, and to help them educate colleagues and partners, in their terms. The return on investment, for instance, is $7 over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent on her early education. And it’s not just about the development of our future workforce – it also helps our current workforce seeking care for their kids.

Some of the current partnerships we’re really excited about: Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, which creates breakthrough innovations for kids, and the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club, where we lead a number of groups to distribute free books to children—more than 40,000 so far.

How did your data-mapping initiative, Blueprint, come together? How is it being used by partners and the public?

When we began, there was a real lack of information about what was happening in Georgia. There are a lot of good things out there, but we weren’t capturing what that looks like, where it is, and how it works. The idea, which originated with GEEARS, the board, and some of our supporters, was to develop tools for analyzing and understanding that statewide footprint

So we joined with Neighborhood Nexus to map indicators of children’s success and birth-to-five[-year-old] assets. It went online in 2012, and is updated annually, so policy-makers, funders, journalists, and others can get a clear look at Georgia’s early education system.

We’re about to launch Blueprint 2.0, which will be optimized for mobile. It will have fewer data-points but be more user-friendly—a great tool when you’re giving a speech or want to looking something up in conversation. We’re really excited about that.

Your most recent strategic plan is set to expire this year. Is there anything you intend to do differently during this round of planning?

We’ve been carefully tracking our activities to the strategic plan, and that attention to measuring results won’t change. We’re active in advocacy, engagement, research, equipping new messengers, and building a strong organization, but every time the board meets they consider the plan to ensure we stay focused on birth-to-five. So we’re constantly working with the board to get input, especially now that it’s time to write the next five years of the organization. As we begin our strategic planning process, we plan to reflect and build on the accomplishments of our first five years. Looking ahead, I think you’ll same the same laser-like attention on our state’s youngest learners, but with a renewed sense of urgency. We will have to take bold steps to meet our 2020 goal.

Marc Schultz is contributing editor at GCN.


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