“Voices from the Field” Interview with Kristie Kauerz, Director of the National P-3 Center

Kristie Kauerz w MuppetKristie Kauerz is director of the National P-3 Center and associate clinical professor at University of Colorado Denver’s School of Education and Human Development. Kristie specializes in education reform efforts that address the continuum of learning from birth through 3rd grade, integrating birth-to-five system building, and K–12 reforms. Kristie’s expertise spans policy, research, and practice. An important aspect of her work is designing and delivering professional learning opportunities that strengthen the relationships and organizational strategies necessary to implement P-3 alignment efforts in districts, states, and communities. Kristie designed and directed the Washington P-3 Executive Leadership Certificate Program, a credit-bearing course of study that co-enrolled administrators from early learning and K–12. She has also led the National P-3 Institute since 2008. Kristie holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Colorado College, a master’s degree in international development from American University, and a doctorate in early childhood policy from Teachers College at Columbia University.


ED: How did you begin your career in early childhood?

Kristie: I actually stumbled into early childhood work! I thought I wanted to work in maternal and child health and community development in Africa. While finishing my master’s thesis, I went to a conference in Denver hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund. At the conference, I attended the Colorado caucus meeting and long story short ended up being offered a job as the Director of Community Development and Outreach in First Impressions, Colorado’s office of early childhood in the Governor’s Office. This started what has been my 25 years in early childhood policy. It was great to work for Governor Roy Romer and the First Lady, Bea. This was in the mid-1990s and they were some of the early, loud state level proponents of early childhood education. I became the Governor’s Policy Advisor on Early Childhood and worked with others to initiate the quality rating and improvement system for early childhood programs in Colorado, competencies for early childhood personnel, and local early childhood councils across the state. It was a really exciting time to be engaged in early childhood policy. I was in the right place at the right time and everything I’ve done in the field since then has a direct thread back to what I learned working in Colorado’s Governor’s Office.

ED: What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?

Kristie: My efforts have been varied. While in Colorado’s Governor’s Office, I spent a lot of time in communities, meeting with stakeholders and people who lived all across the state. I needed to know what policies looked and felt like at the community level. This state to local connection was important to understanding how policies and budget decisions at the state level were impacting the quality of early childhood programs at the local level. I also was engaged in the state to federal connection in early childhood. Governor Romer was a proponent of having Head Start funds go to states so they could be used to build high-quality state systems and programs in early childhood. This exposed me to policies at the national level that impact early childhood programs. After working in the Colorado Governor’s office, I started my first stint in academia. I was an evaluator of Colorado’s early childhood councils and examined how early childhood systems were working at the community level. From there I went to work at Education Commission of the States (ECS). They had a robust P-20 agenda, but the bulk of their work was at the high school end. They wanted to expand their work in the early childhood side. This provided a foundation for my current work. A lot of ECS’ work was thinking about transitions between high school and community college or universities and I realized that we needed to think about transitions at the other end of the continuum so there was alignment and connections between early childhood programs and K–12 systems. Being at a national think tank like ECS allowed me to engage with policymakers to discuss the importance of supporting high-quality early childhood programs, and it helped me to understand how different things are from state to state.

While at ECS, I had the opportunity to get my doctorate. The leadership at ECS was really invested in mid-level staff getting doctorates to become better policy analysts. Sharon Lynn Kagan had just started a doctoral program at Teachers College at Columbia University in early childhood policy. Getting my doctorate was one of the smartest and hardest things that I have done. It made me a more effective policy person. The training as well as the practical experience at the community level helped me translate and bring together research, policy, and practice in early childhood; something that is not always done well in our field.

In my work since getting my doctorate, I have been deeply involved in working in school districts, which is a different lens from early childhood systems. I engage with district central offices, school administrators, and school boards about a different infrastructure that supports a K–12 system. It is really interesting to look at how we educate K–12 students and the disconnect between the early childhood and K–12 systems.

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

Kristie: There are challenges at many levels, but a theme of the challenges is the difference in perspective. For example, there are differences in how birth to five stakeholders think of things versus K–12 stakeholders. There is no right or wrong perspective, just different perspectives. Many professionals in early childhood come up through child care, Head Start, and other preschool programs. They talk about play-based learning, developmentally appropriate practice, and Vygotsky. Those in K–12 have been trained differently. They learn about standards and curriculum and people like Dewey. While 0-5 and K–12 stakeholders hear each other, they don’t always understand the different perspective each comes from. Different perspectives also impact how we navigate policy, research, and practice. These do not always match up to each other if we are not comfortable with another’s perspective. I’ve realized that I need to be a code switcher so that I have credibility across both early childhood and K–12 systems. We don’t talk enough about differences in perspective. We tend to polarize others with different perspectives instead of spending time trying to navigate the difference in perspective. It is a common challenge in each step of the way and across different areas. We have differences in communities, and what works in one may not work in another. We need to recognize these nuances and not assume that there is a one size fits all approach to every problem or issue.

ED: What suggestions do you have for others interested in improving early childhood services and programs?

Kristie: In higher education, I enjoy getting to work with students. I tell them to be curious. Often people’s approach to becoming more effective is to become more certain in their ideas, but it should be the opposite. We need to be curious about others’ perspectives. Early childhood is an interesting space. It has changed in the past 25 years in that there is much more robustness, but we still have an identity crisis. It is a field that grapples with universal access and how to align with K–12 systems or to be a separate system. We need people who will be able to lean into the uncertainty and consider different angles and new approaches to solve our familiar problems. As a field we need more people trained in early childhood policy. We need to think of the next generation of leaders and the policy coursework and program of study they need so that they can step into policy positions. We also need to remember the joy of this work. In my work, the two most memorable and important introductions I had were to Sesame Street’s Grover and Mister Rogers. They both reminded me of the happiness and joy that we want for all children. We need to remember the special time that childhood is and to keep the joy not only for kids but also for the adults who work to support children and their families.


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.

Kristie Kauerz
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Director, National P-3 Center | Associate Clinical Professor, School of Education and Human Development, University of Colorado Denver

Way2Work: Helping Marylanders with Disabilities Transition into the Workforce

This is the final blog in a series of three blogs in October from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) to honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


Way2Work Maryland logo

Way2Work Maryland is a project designed to improve the academic and career success of students with disabilities in Maryland through work-based learning experiences.

The project is open to any student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan who will complete high school with a diploma or certificate in 2020.

The project focuses on helping students engage in paid or unpaid work experiences, aligned with their interests and skills, while supporting a student’s academic success to complete high school.

During the 2018-19 school year, seven Maryland counties engaged in the program for juniors and other students who are two years away from finishing high school.

The program is a partnership of the Maryland’s Department of Education, Maryland’s Division of Rehabilitation Services, the American Job Center Network, and the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education at the University of Maryland.

The following stories highlight the work done by those Way2Work Maryland serves.

Rose’s Story

RoseRose has always loved animals. Dogs, cats, horses, sheep—she loves them all. So, when she met her job developer, Wayne from Humanin, a job development/ career placement agency, there was no question about what industry to place her in.

Wayne was quick to connect Rose with a volunteer job at Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding School in Maryland.

Even though Rose had never worked in a stable, she quickly became one of the center’s top volunteers.

“She comes in and gets right to work,” said Kathleen Schmitt, executive director and founder of CTR. “She always has a smile on her face.”

Rose has achieved proficiency in grooming and feeding the horses, mucking stalls, and performing general barn duties.

When Rose completes this work-based learning experience, she will be qualified to work as a trainee at a horse farm anywhere.

Lisa Miceli, Rose’s mom and biggest advocate, said, “I want her to keep coming here, even if she gets another job. It’s been such a great experience for her.”

Karli’s Story

KarliKarli dreamed of finding a job that would combine her three loves: photography, art and design. Her first work-based learning experience was heavy on the art, but light on photography and design.

Her new job at Silver Linings Lavender, which she got through Way2Work, has everything she was looking for, but it took a positive attitude to find it.

Karli’s first day on the job was the day of the Pride Parade in Westminster, Maryland, one of the busiest retail days of the year. Traffic in the small boutique on Main Street was non-stop all day.

“There was a line out the door. Products were flying off the shelf,” says Dawn Pritchard, Silver Linings Lavender’s owner.

Having Karli’s help that day was really important; she re-stocked the shelves as quickly as they became empty.

“I can’t sell product if it’s not on the shelf,” says Dawn. “That day, I didn’t lose any money.”

According to Dawn, “To be in retail, you really have to be an extrovert.”

Karli is a shy person, and interacting with customers wasn’t her favorite thing. After that first day, Karli thought, “I wouldn’t want to do this for a living.”

Not wanting to interact with customers in a store could be a problem for someone who is shy like Karli; however, there’s a silver lining.

Dawn opened Silver Linings Lavender in 2013 as an online store, but it wasn’t until September 2017 that she expanded into a brick and mortar store. The majority of her business is still online, and that’s where Karli shines.

Now, at Silver Linings Lavender, Karli is learning to do online marketing and using her love of photography, art and design in a retail setting.

Dawn gave her an office and a computer, with software such as Photoshop and InDesign.

It’s a win-win for employer and employee.

“I didn’t have anyone to teach me (about business),” said Dawn, “so I’m happy to share what I know and spread the word.”

Coardell’s Story

CoardellBy day, Coardell is pursuing a trade in welding at Worcester Technical High School. He doesn’t love welding, but it’s better than any of the jobs he’s had at MacDonald’s or Walmart, or washing dishes at a restaurant in Ocean City, Maryland

Outside of school, though, Coardell has other passions. He amazes audiences with his dance moves. He has performed in venues all over Maryland’s Eastern Shore as well as in New York, and he dreams of making a living as a dancer and rapper one day.

Someone with the soul of a dancer might feel restricted and confined in the tight quarters of a welding booth, and the protective gear that welders wear—including a heavy mask—might make it hard for a dancer to move his feet.

Way2Work helped Coardell get a job at Go Glass, a shop that specializes in residential, commercial and auto glass. At Go Glass, Coardell has room to bust a move now and then.

“I finally found something I enjoy doing,” he says.

In addition to having room to move when he has the urge, a crucial piece of Coardell’s success is his mentor, Jeffrey Sewell.

Having a supportive person to show Coardell the ropes and to nudge him when he gets distracted has meant the difference between floundering and feeling comfortable on the shop floor.

Jeff is teaching Coardell all about the glass business—how to cut and install auto glass, table tops, mirrors and doors. He’s also teaching Coardell how to make window and door screens for homes and businesses.

Coardell has learned how to use a tape measure, how to cut glass, and how to keep the blades sharp by storing them in auto coolant. Each time Jeff gives Coardell a little bit more responsibility, Coardell grows more confident.

“He’s a good worker,” said Jeff. “He comes in and gets right to work.”

Way2Work Coordinator, Tammy Hauck, said she knew the environment Go Glass would accommodate Coardell’s needs. “It suits him,” said Tammy. “It gives him more space to be himself.”

Tim’s Story

TimAfter just two months on the job at Avenue Tailor and Cleaners in Westminster, Maryland, Tim is already looking forward to a big promotion.

This summer, he will receive management training and take over as manager of the store’s Gettysburg, Pennsylvania location.

“Dry cleaning was never my first thought,” says Tim. “But it worked for me.”

Tim has always wanted to work at or own a shoe store, so his job developer, Megan O’Neill of Schapiro Training & Employment Program (STEP), a Carroll County, MD supported employment agency, thought the small business on Main Street might be a good fit. She was right.

The experience he has gained at Avenue is pointing him toward college and a degree in business.

Working two-three hours a day, five days a week, Tim drives the company vehicle and picks up and delivers dry cleaning in four locations around Carroll County, Maryland. In his new job, he will learn how to work the front counter, interact with customers and gain an insider’s view of the operation.

According to Tim’s dad, Brian Wall, the job at Avenue Tailor, for which Tim is paid, has made a tremendous change in Tim.

Brian sees his son being more engaged in school and having a more positive attitude in general. Tim even signed up for the SATs on his own to the surprise and delight of his parents.

“I wish Way2Work would have been available when I was in high school,” said Brian. “You can’t put a price tag on experience.”


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.

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.

Successful Work Experiences

Alaska and Nevada VR Websites

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) assists state and local education agencies and VR agencies and service providers, and it keeps close contact with these agencies and providers in order to share real stories of real youth being supported in transition programs. Alaska and Nevada are just two of the states that are creating programs to help youth with disabilities transition into a work environment.

Alaska Division of Vocation Rehabilitation

Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provided pre-employment transition service—a requirement of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) activities to 802 Alaskan students this year through a number of statewide initiatives including Transition Camps and its Summer Work programs.

Transition Camps

Transition Camps help students develop a vision for what their future can be by exposing them to career exploration and the resources they may need to successfully transition from school to work. These camps, located in predominantly rural areas of the state and juvenile justice facilities, served 236 students. Transition camps are a partnership between DVR, Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), and the Department of Education.

Summer Work Programs

Summer Work, a partnership program between DVR and DEI, focused on providing students with disabilities with a chance to have a paid 160-hour work experience to become work ready. Summer Work served 182 students in 2018, and 99 Alaskan businesses provided work sites for students engaged in the program. Summer Work programs are implemented by school districts and community agencies in rural and urban areas. This year’s big success was the Cordova School District summer program. Eight of the 14 students who participated transitioned to competitive integrated employment at the end of their work experience!

Nevada Department of Education

The Nevada Department of Education hosts and organizes the annual Nevada Student Leadership Transition Summit (NSLTS). The summit provides a forum for high school students with disabilities to participate in sessions focused on disability awareness, self-advocacy, resources for career and college planning, and networking events with providers and other teens across the state.

NSLTS can have a lasting impact on people’s lives.

Kascia Tognoli attended the NSLTS in 2008 and 2009 as a student from Lyon County School District’s Yerington High School.

NSLTS helped Kascia realize what she wanted to do for a career. When she reflected on her time at NSLTS to the summit’s organizer Jennifer Kane, Kascia said:

I knew from then on what I really wanted to do which is what I am doing now, helping adults and students with disabilities. I remember going to my mom and telling her what they were talking about at the conference, and that I was going to do that one day. You [NSLTS] are the main reason why I started doing what I do… At the conference I came to terms that I needed to love my disability because it makes me who I am!… I just want to tell you thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting on that conference, it changed my life!

Kascia is employed currently with K.E.T. Consulting, LLC—a provider of Pre-Employment Transition Services in the state.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.


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.

Transition Resources Help Agencies and Service Providers Support Youth with Disabilities

Logo - National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

This is the first blog in a series of three blogs in October from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) to honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In this series, NTACT will share resources and success stories of NTACT-supported agencies and providers and individuals whom the agencies and providers assist.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.

NTACT, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), identifies effective practices to improve employment preparation and employment outcomes for students with disabilities.

In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, NTACT wants to remind the field of some resources available on its website that focus on preparing students for successful careers after high school and college.

  • Guide to Developing School-Community-Business Partnerships
    Guidance for various audiences including families, community organizations, employers, schools, and agencies to develop and sustain partnerships focused on employment preparation and success for young people with disabilities.
  • Competitive Integrated Employment Toolkit A compilation of resources, focused on achieving competitive integrated employment and meaningful careers.
  • Predictors of Post-School Success
    Links to descriptions of researched factors and attributes and skills correlated with post-school success in employment and other post-school outcomes.
  • School to Work Timeline
    Timeline to consider for planning career development activities with students.
  • Wow! Success Stories
    A collection of video resources for students, families, and other stakeholders, featuring individuals with disabilities experiencing successful employment and other adult outcomes.

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.