Letter to the Editor: Quality early childhood education

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

The title of an article written by Peggy L. Maki, “Moving beyond a National Habit in the Call for Accountability,” caught my attention. She is the education consultant/assessment and accreditation specialist and author of a peer review. As an education consultant, Maki is urging the Associations of American Colleges and Universities to no longer accept the use of standardized testing as the only mechanism for gauging student learning.

Maki is calling for a move away from what is easy (standardized testing) to an established “framework of excellence “ that identifies 14 essential skills students must have when graduating from college as a more informed way of measuring student achievement among  the varying degrees of diversity within today’s student populations.

I use Maki’s article as a launching pad to talk about the city’s redevelopment plan for Midtown.  Once again those of us who are stakeholders in Midtown, meaning those of us who live, work or own businesses in Midtown, had hopes that maybe this time yet another redevelopment process to “help us” would in fact actually benefit the residents and businesses in Midtown.

To date, the process has resulted in a draft redevelopment plan that on its surface appear to be a compilation of projects that will yield very little long term sustainable economic growth for the residents or businesses in Midtown or businesses that serve families in Midtown.

Just like the others, the redevelopment planning process began by seeking input from Midtown residents. Just like before, I responded to the call for resident’s input  on three separate occasions to provide my thought on the need for the redevelopment plan to include a strategy that focused on the city investing in “quality early childhood education.”

I went to the table armed with 30 plus years of varying degrees of public sector experience, as a Certified Public Manager in the State of Florida, as the chairwoman of the Happy Worker’s Learning, Inc. S.M.A.R.T. Board of Directors and as a consistent and persistent advocate of closing the academic achievement gap that has persisted among African and Hispanic children for years within Pinellas County, and most importantly as a lifelong resident of Midtown.

Unfortunately my optimism was shattered, once again, when there was no mention of “quality” early childhood education in the plan. Simultaneous to receiving the plan, there was news coverage indicating the City of St. Petersburg was making an investment in “quality” early childhood education by paying students $10 per hour to read to preschool students and making a contribution to St. Petersburg College’s scholarship program for future early childhood education teachers.

Once again, trying to act as a responsible citizen concerned about my community, I questioned the insult of the city’s investment in quality early childhood education from my representatives in City Hall. Councilman Karl Nurse responded by text essentially saying that some people are never satisfied!

The sad thing about the comment coming from Mr. Nurse is he is the very same city councilman who launched his own personal redevelopment plan by purchasing dilapidated houses in Midtown, rehabilitated them and then claimed it as a victory for the residents of Midtown, but that’s another story!

Currently Midtown has approximately 90 home care and center based providers. This number is inclusive of independent home care providers and center providers who collectively have provided early childhood education to thousands of families who live or have lived in Midtown.

In his recent state of the union address, President Barack Obama called for communities to make an investment in quality early childhood education. Specifically that means independent home providers and center-based providers should have the support to make physical renovations that ensure students are in an environment conducive for receiving a quality early childhood education.

They should also be supported in earning accreditation, to build coalitions that aide them in purchasing goods and services at economies of scale, purchasing evidence based curriculum, last but not least, hiring teachers with the requisite degrees and experience in early childhood education.

Currently the greatest threats to these business owners is being swallowed up by corporate childcare centers or by foreign business owners who come to this country looking for businesses that have potential for a great return on their dollar, but with little to no interest in African and Hispanic children being prepared to enter kindergarten.

Small and independent providers began to fill the squeeze of reduced childcare subsidies and increased demand from compliance processes and suddenly someone with a foreign interest comes along with a cash offer and business owners feeling the need to succumb to the pressure. Not because that is what they want to do, for many times it will be because of what they have to do!

It would truly be a sunless day in Midtown, for the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County Government if they forgo yet another opportunity to not only support one of the largest employers and business interests in Midtown, but also to fail at making a substantive investment in quality early childhood education, which could potentially be the beginning of not only closing the academic achievement gap, but making a sustainable investment on the economic base of the Midtown community.

Like Maki’s urging to the University communities, the City of St. Petersburg must move beyond old habits of doing what’s easy!  They must recognize the diversity within Midtown, by working with Midtown residents and business owners to deploy economic development strategies that yield positive outcomes for its residents and business owners!

~ Maria L. Scruggs

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