“I think some of the biggest challenges that remain for the next administration going forward is how are we going to – at scale – address affordability of high-quality early learning for all families.”
Interview with Susan Perry-Manning
Early Care and Education Consortium
by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks
Susan Perry-Manning assumed the role of Executive Director for the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) in October 2016. ECEC is a national non-profit alliance of the leading multi-state/multi -site early care and education providers, state child care associations, and educational services providers across the country advocating for strong federal and state policies that bring quality to scale and support families and children from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Prior to this role, Susan served as Executive Director for the state of Delaware Office of Early Learning – working with public and private partners across Delaware to create, fund, coordinate and implement the state’s early learning services and policies.
Steven: How did you begin your career in support of early learning?
Susan: My interest in early childhood stemmed from a desire to help break the cycle of generational poverty so that all young children and families have an opportunity to succeed. My very first job in early childhood was working for a local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agency, managing the Child Care Food Program and working with family child care providers to improve the meals and services they were providing to young children. I ultimately served as Executive Director for that CCR&R in Durham, North Carolina, joined forces with Child Care Services Association, working for Sue Russell, and eventually moved to Washington, DC, to work for Child Care Aware of America, serving under both Yasmina Vinci and then Linda Smith’s leadership. I moved back to North Carolina to work for the state Smart Start office, serving as Stephanie Fanjul’s Vice President. Most recently, I was the Executive Director for the Office of Early Learning in Delaware, and as of two months ago, assumed the role of Executive Director for the Early Care and Education Consortium.
I mention some of the amazing women I have worked for in the past, because each one of them mentored and supported my professional growth. I think that is so important for our field right now – to nurture and make room for new leaders in early care and education at all levels – local, state, and national.
Steven: What do you see as the role of member organizations such as ECEC in improving the quality early learning programs?
Susan: I think that the child care industry itself has a huge role to play in defining and promoting high-quality early learning for America’s children. Understanding how policy, regulations, and funding impact direct practice and the business of child care is critical if we are really working to scale quality for all young children, so I think the Early Care and Education Consortium has a pretty important role to play as we move our quality agenda forward.
Steven: Why is the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning programs important to our country and what do you see as some of the challenges and some of the opportunities, particularly as it may relate to equity?
Susan: I think that we’ve made a lot of progress in the last eight years in terms of promoting a high-quality early learning agenda for America’s children and particularly its high-needs children. And we’ve launched collectively some successful initiatives – for example the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships – to raise the quality of infant and toddler care across this nation. We all know that infant and toddler care is often the lowest quality, the hardest for providers to offer and still make their bottom lines work, and the most challenging for families to find and afford. I think some of the biggest challenges that remain for the next Administration going forward are not new: how can we, at scale, address affordability and access to high-quality early learning programs that meet the needs of working families and support young children’s optimal development – because we know children’s earliest experiences at home and in child care have a lasting impact on later learning, health and success and ultimately impact our national security, safety and economic well-being.
In particular, I think, we need to address is at the heart of quality: teachers. There’s still a huge gap between what we know is best for children in terms of a teacher’s knowledge and competencies and what the reality is. And, we will have to figure out how to create an early childhood financing model that allows us to attract and retain the best, the brightest, and the most nurturing, effective teachers we can for our young children. As we continue to raise requirements, standards, and education of our workforce, we can’t lose sight of how important it is that young children have equity of access to high-quality teachers that reflect the growing diversity of our country.