Supporting State Systems of Early Childhood
Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office of Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. Wendy earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from Gonzaga University, a master’s degree in sociology from Portland State University, and a doctorate in sociology from the University of Akron. Dr. Grove has a wide range of experience teaching experience, from preschool students, to middle school students in special education, to undergraduate and medical students.
How did you begin your career in early childhood?
When I was in college, I started working as an early educator, becoming a lead teacher for a preschool class of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children. I was hooked immediately, even though I was not an education major. I fell in love with the children and how they overcame challenges and faced every day with unbridled energy. As I continued my graduate work, and as I started teaching college students, I came to believe that if I had had these students as preschoolers, perhaps I would see less pervasive low literacy, including poor writing and challenges with reading comprehension. So, I set my sights on getting back to the start of the learning journey and I began teaching adults serving children birth through age three as a Professional Development Coordinator. Through this work, I was able to support our early childhood professionals working as Home Visitors and Early Intervention Service Coordinators and Supervisors. After that, I served as the state’s Part C Coordinator before coming to the Ohio Department of Education to oversee their early learning programming. This somewhat winding pathway to early childhood has allowed me to serve both the children and the professionals who serve them and their families.
What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?
In the 16 years I have worked at the state level in early childhood programming, I have been very fortunate to be part of teams examining policy and program requirements. My first engagement in improving the quality of early childhood programs was in helping to establish the federally funded home visiting program through the Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting grants. I was also part of the implementation of the Early Learning Challenge Grant, which resulted in Ohio implementing many quality initiatives. I will forever be grateful to my colleagues who identified the need for Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System supports and evaluation, a comprehensive Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, and supports for our early care and education workforce. I have been able to lead an examination of the state’s indicators of high quality early childhood inclusion with the help of the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center and a robust state leadership team of passionate Ohioans. I am currently overseeing an Early Childhood Inclusive Leadership Fellowship program, an OSEP-funded grant, to support our leaders working with children with disabilities birth to third grade. Other key efforts have included a 2022 revision of Ohio’s Early Learning and Development Standards, implementing Early Childhood Mental Health consultation within our regional system of support for schools, and pilot testing the Leading Men Fellowship in Cincinnati, Ohio.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced in your work and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?
Challenges come and go and include changes in laws and regulations, using data to show the impacts of programming, having the capacity to get all the work done, and staying connected to those who are most effected by policy changes. The COVID-19 pandemic was an enormous challenge faced by everyone across the nation; here in Ohio we prioritized keeping children and educators safe. Every decision about how early childhood programs operated had to be evaluated as information evolved. The workforce changes we are seeing now have created another set of challenges and have brought much needed attention to supporting teachers in their critical role educating our young children. The most impactful strategies, from my experience, have included intentional and diligent commitment to cooperation and collaboration across state agencies serving young children, their families, and their teachers. I am a strong believer in engaging subject matter experts, colleagues, and the individuals with lived experience to actively work on a defined problem for a specific amount of time. Pulling together people to accomplish a needed task will take you from challenge to solution identification and implementation.
What suggestions do you have for others interested in improving early childhood services and programs?
I would suggest that anyone who wants to improve early childhood services and programs start by inviting and engaging voices from the field to share their lived experiences. By inviting and listening, we gain valuable information about what the interactions feel like for early childhood educators and the parents we serve. Another suggestion is to deeply understand the state of early childhood by diving into data and using it to craft the narrative used to make improvements. Also important is staying current with the available research knowledge. Only by being informed about the evidence can we implement improvements which will change systems and positively impact our youngest learners for future success. Finally, go see early childhood programs in action. Get into the schools and see what the day is like. Try and do this regularly and often so that when the work of improvement happens, we know what is needed and what will make a difference.
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