Working with Dallas Independent School District, Derek Little served as Assistant Superintendent, Early Childhood during The Broad Residency.
Waking up this early, while it is still so dark outside, makes me appreciate my wife and her colleagues even more. She is an eighth-grade English teacher who wakes up this early every day. I am waking up early today because I have to meet some of my staff to drive slightly more than two hours to facilitate a working session for some of our early childhood community pilots.
An early morning drive through the Louisiana swamp is nice and peaceful. These drives are great because I always enjoy getting time with my team outside of the office to strengthen relationships and have strategic conversations. We spend a lot of time catching up with each other about the goings-on in our lives, but make sure to do a final discussion of our approach for the working session.
I have a check-in call with the early childhood leadership team to review our major priorities for the rest of the week. I also have to make sure the working session is set up.
I lead this morning’s working session with some of our early childhood community pilots to begin developing their coordinated enrollment systems. In Louisiana, we are working to improve kindergarten readiness through community pilots, which include at a minimum public schools, publicly-funded nonpublic schools, child care and Head Start. The pilots design their coordinated enrollment system during this working session, so families know what options they have and can apply in a streamlined way across all program types.
I follow up individually with some of the pilot leaders to address specific questions they have and hear any suggestions or concerns. These one-on-one conversations are the most valuable in developing relationships and getting feedback on the work we are pursuing statewide.
The team and I have lunch. Our field work always helps us strengthen relationships with local leaders while getting to explore the great tastes of Louisiana.
Our team debriefs the session during the drive back to Baton Rouge, generally identifying some aspects we can improve next time and other areas that went really well.
We also listen in on the early childhood advisory council meeting by phone. The advisory council was recently created to provide recommendations on early childhood policies prior to review by our state board. Today, the advisory council is reviewing proposed licensing regulations for child care and Head Start.
When we return to the building, I sit in on the advisory council meeting in person to listen in to the debate and discussion. I am not directly involved with the licensing work, but will have a lot of policies to bring to the advisory council in the coming year. This is a good opportunity for me to see how the advisory council is going to handle their work.
I eventually head home, but the council will spend several more hours reviewing the draft regulations.
I have dinner with my wife. Part of the reason I woke up so early this morning was to avoid having an overnight trip away from home. It is important to me to be at home and most of my team prefers the same thing. So we have quite a few early starts when we travel.
TI check my emails and calendar to make sure I have resolved what I can for the day and am ready for the next one, particularly the early morning meetings. Today was a good day, albeit a long one, but I love being in the field. It was also an important day for us, because with today’s first meeting of the advisory council, we got closer to formalizing what we have been piloting.
I just returned from my third Broad Residency session, and I’m re-energized and excited. Because I was out last week, today requires an early start and a lot of housekeeping and check-in meetings. The holidays are starting next week, so I need to make sure a number of projects are prepped for 2015 — the year in which the final pieces of our foundation for early childhood education must be laid.
I come in a couple of hours earlier than usual. I use the uninterrupted early morning to catch up, prep for the day and organize my week.
Our team meets this morning in excitement because all remaining communities applied and were interviewed to become a pilot, well before our guiding legislation requires it. With every community volunteering to unify its local early-childhood system of child care, Head Start and pre-K, Louisiana is in an excellent position to capitalize on the energy and excitement in the field to improve kindergarten readiness. Our team has a great meeting to plan our approach to early 2015 with the first two pilot cohorts and agree to begin work in January with the final cohort of pilots.
I am leading the development of the early-childhood accountability system. We are field testing an accountability system with seven of the first cohort of community pilots. In this meeting, I check with the team to ensure we are on pace with the pilots and clear about what we need to accomplish after the holidays to launch the accountability system statewide for the 2015-2016 learning year. Louisiana is required by law to produce a letter grade for every publicly-funded early childhood provider. The field test will inform how we implement the accountability system statewide in 2015-2016.
As the day goes on, I have meetings on a wide variety of topics. The department of education is transitioning the federal Child Care Development Fund from Children and Family Services to us to unify the early-childhood system. Our transition team has several contracts and memoranda of understanding to work through to transition smoothly and ensure services are maintained for families.
Last week, Louisiana was awarded a federal preschool development grant. I led the team that wrote the grant and we are celebrating the win of $32 million over four years, enabling access to pre-K for thousands more children. We hold a brief check-in meeting today with the first six communities that are partners in providing pre-K services.
As part of transitioning the federal CCDF, we are determining how many staff will transfer from one state department to the other. This work will be a big operational lift for me and our team, so we want to ensure we are adequately staffed.
I get to check in with the portfolio team. We have a once-a-month meeting between our teams since we both work closely with non-public schools and public charter schools. Today, we are discussing the provider application for pre-K funding, particularly which non-public schools will be eligible to apply. These check-in meetings are always great reminders of how important it is to connect work across different teams within the department and how much I benefit from collaborating with others.
Every Monday, our early-childhood leadership team reviews our priorities for the week. Between all the pilot interviews and community meetings, this is the first time in several weeks we have all attended the meeting. It is a great time for us to align on our end-of-year priorities, do final preparation for the upcoming state board meeting and prepare for our team holiday party, which is later in the week.
This is my only time without a planned meeting of the day. I catch up on some emails and quickly chat with one of my team members about a community meeting later in the week.
Once a month, our chief of staff, assistant superintendent and I check in on internal operations, budget and staffing. With the next transition of CCDF staff coming on February 1, we have a lot to cover.
With my early morning start, this has been a long day, but productive. I use my last hour to resolve any outstanding emails and prepare for the next day. There are only four more days until my much-anticipated holiday break: two weeks off to spend with my wife and family.