“Voices from the Field” Interview with Jeana Ross, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education

“Invest in your teachers and provide them what they need to be a true early childhood teacher that is responsive and sensitive to children”

Jeana Ross, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education

Jeana Ross, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education

Secretary Jeana Ross was appointed to lead Early Childhood Education in Alabama in 2012. Under her leadership, the Department of Early Childhood Education has maintained the highest quality rating for its First Class Pre-K program, based on the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) quality benchmarks, while the program underwent the largest growth in its history. Since Secretary Ross joined the department, the voluntary high-quality pre-K program has grown from 217 classrooms to more than 800 classrooms located in all 67 counties of the state. The state’s early learning home visiting and family support services have grown from serving 13 counties, to a total of 43 counties through Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) grants and additional state funds. Secretary Ross has led the department in writing and receiving federal grant awards totaling over 100 million dollars. She focuses her leadership efforts on serving children and families while maintaining the highest levels of transparency and accountability.

Note to readers: Given the importance of high quality early learning opportunities for young children with disabilities, OSERS will periodically highlight voices from the broader field of early learning in our blog.

ED: How did you begin your career in the field of early learning?

Jeana: I obtained my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and I hold a master’s degree in education leadership. While in my undergraduate program, I studied psychology courses focused on babies and young children and became intrigued with children and their development. I was certified to teach pre-k to third grade and began my career teaching a combined class of second and third graders in rural Alabama. As my career advanced, I became one of the first kindergarten teachers in Alabama Public Schools, a full-day program. When starting my own family, I took a break from my career to raise my two sons. My love for children’s curiosity and delight of discovery created a strong desire to always participate in and facilitate the pure joy of learning. I returned to the field in 1997, teaching preschool, and was provided the opportunity to write school readiness standards for the county school district. My accomplishments resulted in my serving as a coach for other teachers across the state. Through my work in public schools, I began building pre-k programs in different school systems and participated in an advisory role as the state began its pre-k program. When my current position became open in 2012, I interviewed with the governor and was asked to serve as the department leader. The Alabama First Class Pre-K Program has in the last 4 years increased the number of children enrolled from 3,906 (6% of) four-year-olds to 14,598 (25%).

ED: Why do you and your state believe it is important to focus on improving the quality of pre-k?

Jeana: The effects of early learning experiences in the first five years of a child’s life have long-lasting impacts. High-quality programs have positive effects for children, which can lead to later success in school, work, and life. In Alabama, early childhood professionals are committed to quality. Through their efforts, parents and businesses became a part of the advocacy work highlighting the need for high-quality preschool programs in our communities. We have an Alabama School Readiness Alliance that is comprised of several nonprofits and business organizations, and this group is the greatest supporter in the state for legislative funding for early childhood. As a result of all the advocacy work, Alabama has made high-quality pre-K part of the law in the state.

ED: What are some of the challenges your state has experienced in this work and what strategies have you tried to overcome these?

Jeana: Alabama was challenged with a fragmented system of early childhood supports and services for young children. We created partnerships with other groups serving children and families to actively build a more cohesive system. We were creative in our thinking, and looked at the importance of having a data management system for analyzing information, and for continuous improvement and decision making. This enabled us to better connect strategies with fund sources, such as expanding the use of Title I dollars in the pre-k programs and building more collaborative structures in the system for Pre-K and Head Start funds. In addition, Alabama wanted to develop an effective system to support socioeconomically-diverse classrooms and salary parity for teachers. Through building this system and these structures, we now have a formula to improve classrooms, and have created a method to provide supplemental grants to pay pre-K teachers comparable salaries with their K-12 counterparts. When faced with challenges, my advice is to always be creative and persistent.

ED: What recommendations do you have for other states interested in expanding access to high- quality preschool programs?    

Jeana: What I would recommend to other states is:

  1. set high-quality standards, communicate what those are, and demonstrate what they look like;
  2. involve parents, businesses and industry leaders in the initiative; and
  3. provide supports such as coaching and monitoring to maintain quality.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Jeana Ross, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education
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Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education

U.S. Department of Education Launches Revamped IDEA Website

New IDEA Website header graphic

June 5 Update:

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback regarding the new IDEA website. Please note:

  • The new website can be found at: https://sites.ed.gov/idea.
  • The Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004 site can still be found at: http://idea.ed.gov.
  • The Department of Education experienced latency issues across all ed.gov sites June 1-3. These latency issues caused links to timeout and documents to freeze. If you experience site delays, please let us know below.

The new and improved Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website has arrived! During the last two months, more than 130 of you have taken the time to offer thoughtful feedback as to what you would like to see in a revamped IDEA website. Thank you for your important and informative comments.

With your input driving the project, the new site has:

  • Improved Site Navigation and Design
    You asked for a visually-appealing, easier-to-use site that reduces the number of clicks it takes to get you where you need to be. We’ve updated the design and worked to simplify the site’s interface to make locating information more intuitive to the user.
  • Expanded Search Options
    You asked that we keep the statute and regulation search capabilities from the Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004 site but also include a policy document search. We kept the search capabilities, but we updated the search to reflect the most recent statute and regulations. As many of you requested, the search also includes policy documents, such as Dear Colleague letters, OSEP memos, FAQs and policy letters.
  • Resources for Specific Audiences
    You asked that we highlight resources specific to various IDEA stakeholder groups. We’ve created resource pages specific to parents/families, educators/service providers, and grantees. For non-English speakers, we created a Language Support page that links to one of our grantee’s resources in Spanish, and we’ve provided additional information about the Department’s language assistance, which is offered in more than 170 languages.
  • Expanded Content with Streamlined Resources
    You asked that we expand content and streamline the site’s resources covering IDEA and other federal agency-related initiatives. We expanded our Topic Areas page to include more topics with updated information and links to reflect Department and Federal resources as well as resources from the Office of Special Education Programs-funded grantees. We’ve provided links to existing IDEA-related data reports, State Performance Plans/Annual Performance Reports and grant award letters. We’ve highlighted laws and resources related to individuals with disabilities that are under the jurisdiction of other Departments and Federal agencies. We’ve pulled together a list of frequently-used acronyms and terms.

Relevant content from the Legacy site has transitioned to the new IDEA site and the Legacy site will remain online while we continue to refine the new IDEA site.

We would like to get your feedback on the new IDEA website as we continue to develop and enhance the content and functionality.

Your feedback on the site is essential for helping us improve the Department’s online resources as part of our commitment to ensure that infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities and their families have the supports and services guaranteed under the IDEA.

View new IDEA Website