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Everyone Can Be Part of First Things First

Author: Marilee Dal Pra, CEO, First Things First

May 25, 2018

by Marilee Dal Pra, Chief Executive Officer, First Things First

As the new CEO at First Things First (FTF), I am honored to lead such a dynamic and effective organization. It’s especially rewarding to share with business leaders and policymakers the impact of Arizona’s early childhood investments, such as, the percentage of child care programs meeting or exceeding quality standards has increased from 23 percent to 72 percent since 2013.

While a simple data point to convey, it represents years of partnership and collaboration between FTF, other state agencies, system leaders and providers. Philanthropy, too, has played an important role, funding research to test innovations and expanding access to quality early learning settings for some of our state’s most at-risk children. Helios Education Foundation has been a crucial partner, leading efforts to coalesce partners around a common vision for the system and funding on-going professional development for volunteers, providers and community champions engaged in the work of early childhood.

Through partnership, we are able to get things done: we are able to maximize resources, expand programs and serve more children. By collaborating, we can identify gaps, ensure alignment among partners and programs, and most importantly, use our collective wisdom and experience to continuously improve our complex system.

For many, partnership and collaboration are buzz words, used to create the appearance of inclusion. For the early childhood system, they are the cornerstone of our ability to ensure that all children have the support they need to grow up healthy and arrive at kindergarten prepared to be successful.

The sad truth is that Arizona’s youngest children face a mountain of obstacles on their path to success: 1 in 4 live in poverty; 1 in 3 don’t attend preschool; and as many as 3 out of 4 may not be receiving crucial screenings to identify issues that unaddressed could cause learning problems later on. No one organization alone can help children overcome those obstacles and start kindergarten ready to succeed. And while the challenges facing young children seem to be ever increasing, the resources to overcome those challenges are not.
Partnership and collaboration are needed now more than ever, and by more than the usual suspects. Research shows that when children have quality early childhood experiences, they do better in school and in life. Our educational system shows better outcomes. Our businesses have more qualified employees. Our communities are safer.

We all benefit when children come to school prepared to be successful. As I begin my tenure as CEO of First Things First, it is my personal and professional mission to work in concert with all sectors of our community – families, providers, business, philanthropy and elected officials – to find even more ways that we can partner and collaborate to get all Arizona kids ready for school and set for life!

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