About the Cabinet

We’re all in this Together

Kids Are the Winners in Public-Private Partnerships

Three successful Kansas early childhood collaborations prove children, families and communities benefit when diverse partners work together for the common good.

The research is definitive. When you provide Kansas’ littlest citizens with high-quality early education, the entire community benefits. And when diverse segments of the community come together through public-private partnerships, these programs are all the more effective, gaining the reach, fuel and expertise necessary to maximize the impact of their work.

As executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund, Janice Suzanne Smith, is on the forefront of building and expanding partnerships across the state. She urged the early childhood professionals gathered for the EC11 conference to “look at people as assets who can enrich your community and have something to give, who have perspectives to share that will make all our lives better.”


For inspiration, Smith spotlighted the work of three such partnerships that receive ECBG funds, in Coffeyville, Hays and Wichita. While each site is different, they are similar in how they have effectively harnessed the skills, resources and energy of a wide array of partners and cemented them around a common vision. The measurable impact proves partnerships work.

The Entire Community Has Come Together
Coffeyville USD 445

“We knew we had to do something immediately,” said Dr. Craig Correll, the superintendent of Coffeyville Public Schools, as he shared with the EC11 audience some very sobering statistics. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district’s kindergarteners had 93 behavioral referrals, 881 tardies, 1,223 unexcused absences and – the stat that hit Correll the hardest – 11 out-of-school suspensions for behaviors he found shocking.

Graphic Recording of Coffeyville Statistics

Graphic recording of Coffeyville statistics captured at the EC-11 Conference

In Montgomery County, where Coffeyville is located, the poverty rate is 24.81%, and almost two thirds of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. In 2008, only 8 percent of the African American males in the district were proficient in math.

“When did we fail them?” Correll and his team queried. The kindergarten data shone a light. “They had come to us with this gap in kindergarten,” Correll realized. So the answer to improving the life of children in the district, and helping the community reach its overarching goal of breaking the cycle of poverty, lay in improving pre-school education in Montgomery County. Reaching this ambitious goal would require the best efforts of the entire community, he said.

So they formed partnerships that brought public and private organizations together with one goal: Help children get the early education experience they need to enter school ready to learn.

With the rallying cry of “We’re all in this together,” the district forged new partnerships and strengthened existing ones with a wide array of stakeholders, including Coffeyville Community College, child-serving nonprofits and the business community.

USD 445 is leading the charge by participating in numerous programs and partnerships, including the Coffeyville Coalition for Early Education and the KHSA Early Learning Communities Collaborative. Their partnership with Tri-County Special Education Cooperative ensures children with special needs receive early intervention. Four County Mental Health Centers provide classroom consultations, including mental health assessments, intervention plans, outreach to parents and parent education.

The district’s flagship program is the Dr. Jerry Hamm Early Learning Center, for children 3 to 5. Amanda Cavaness, principal of the center, shared that 61 percent of their families reported an income of less than $10,000 a year, with 25 percent of the children of Hispanic/Latinx origin, many of whom spoke English as a second or third language.

That data showed Cavaness one thing: “We have to work that much harder. When the children come to us and we know what their life is like out of school, we know we have extra work to do.”

The hard work of the teachers, assistants, parents and students has paid off. Test scores have risen significantly, and by 2016, all CLASS environments met the benchmarks. The preschools were entering kindergarten ready to learn.

“The Dr. Jerry Hamm Early Learning Center of Coffeyville has one of the most diverse populations, the third lowest average family income, parents with the least education and the greatest percentage of gains compared to other sites in the longitudinal study. The scores were above the statewide ECBG averages with significant improvement over the school year,” found Dr. Lynn Schrepferman, a Wichita State University senior research scientist who evaluated test data for the Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund.

Correll was excited to report that the 2015-2016 school year stats for kindergarteners looked very different than the ones four years earlier. Behavior referrals, tardies and unexcused absences fell significantly. The number he is most excited about? Out-of-school suspensions were zero.

“Without these relationships, none of this would have been possible,” Correll stated. “Coffeyville changed the first five years, and we changed everything.”

Data is powerful
Hays USD 489

Not everybody is a numbers nerd. But everyone can agree that numbers that prove your early childhood program is knocking it out of the park are worth their weight in gold when applying for funding, winning publicity, effectively advocating for early education, improving staff and student performance, and assessing program needs.

Collecting solid data that show your early childhood program is achieving great results will also help you forge and build solid community partnerships. That’s why Dana Jo Stanton, early childhood grants coordinator for USD 489 Early Childhood Connections Program in Hays, keeps her nose in the numbers. The self-proclaimed Data Guru for Connections, Stanton collects the data from six different tests the kids in her school take for the common measures initiative of the Early Childhood Block Grants, including ASQ:3, ASQ:SE2, HOME, PFS, myIGDIs and CLASS.  The tests measure children’s progress in a variety of areas, like developmental milestones, signs that a child may be at risk for social or emotional challenges, early reading and early math proficiency.

In the 10 years she has been with the program, Stanton has used such data to help bring in more than $6 million to area early childhood programs.

As soon as the children’s tests scores are tabulated, Stanton makes sure the data is put to work by their many partners to further the education of the center’s 201 at-risk students. Teachers share the results with parents. The school’s program director uses the data to identify areas of instructional weakness, performance reviews and mentoring. Program-wide results are shared with the Early Childhood Grants Advisory Council, the Hays Interagency Coordinating Council, the Kindergarten Readiness Committee and the Hays board of education.

Why all this data? “It’s better to tell people what you do and who you serve rather than relying on assumptions,” Stanton explained. “Your staff and partners should be able to accurately tell others about the quality of your program. Team spirit is built by progress towards a common goal.”

Stanton shared a few “lessons learned” for use by other Kansas early childhood programs as they tap into the power of data to build partnerships:

Utilize the data. Use this resource to gain publicity, empower your advocacy efforts, build your team, increase the success of grant writing, conduct needs assessments, initiate staff and program improvement, and set goals for student growth.

Collaboration is the Key
The Opportunity Project (TOP), Wichita

“No single person or entity can meet the needs of our children,” Cornelia Stevens, the executive director of The Opportunity Project (TOP) Early Learning Centers in Wichita, told the audience of early education professionals. Then, she described the very real needs of the children served at TOP centers.

Of the 629 1- to 5-year-olds in TOP’s three Early Learning Centers, 44 percent were of Hispanic/Latinx origin, with 23 percent non-English speaking. Three-fourths of the students had two or more risk factors, netting the program the dubious distinction of having one of the highest levels of overall risk out of the 21 ECBG grantees.

These kids are exactly who Barry Downing, the private donor who founded TOP, wanted to serve when he created this unique private-public partnership, Stevens explained. “TOP was founded by a private individual who wanted to help children in poverty,” she said. “Mr. Downing came back with areas like teen pregnancy and gang prevention as the problems he wanted to address. He learned that if he would invest in early childhood education, he would impact all these areas and ensure the kids in poverty were ready to learn.”

What started as one individual’s vision has grown into a collaborative effort that is already seeing amazing results in just a few short years.

With more than 20 years of experience developing collaborative partnerships, creating opportunities for new business development, assessing and identifying needed services, and monitoring the quality and effectiveness of those programs, Stevens knows the power of partnership. She said TOP’s alliance with Rainbows United, Kansas Children’s Service League, the Derby Public Schools and the Wichita Public Schools has been key to the school’s success.

During the 2015-2016 program year, the ASQ-3 test results indicated a high level of risk. More than half the children did not meet benchmarks in at least one domain.  As the school year progressed, the children made gains, with significant change achieved in all categories of the myIGDI literary and numeracy tests.

“We started out with 83 percent of our classrooms meeting quality standards. By spring, 100 percent of our classrooms were high quality,” she reported.

How did they do it? They launched a process improvement plan. Students received personal education plans that teamed up the teacher, parents and director. They launched individual and small group remediation.

In addition, Stevens said, “We changed our structure and added curriculum and instruction coaches at each location. We used a mentor teacher model for teachers, and focused on quality.” The program also added an assessment coordinator to analyze data, looks for trends and shares the data in a meaningful way with teachers.

“It’s a team effort,” Stevens said. “Collaboration is the key.”

The EC-11 Summit was hosted by the Cabinet on April 18-19, 2017 and highlighted the importance of investing in Early Childhood. We know that there is an $11.00 return for every $1.00 invested in early childhood initiatives in Kansas. The EC to the 11th Power (EC11) Summit focused on the successes of Cabinet-funded initiatives and the power of those programs to improve the lives of children and families in Kansas.



Rural Serving Programs

Rural Programs Ensure All Residents Receive Early Childhood Services

For those who live in rural Kansas, country life has a lot of joys. Unobstructed sunsets, star filled nights, room to run. But these sparsely populated areas also pose some challenges for the early childhood educators dedicated to providing rural Kansas families with comprehensive services.

During the EC11 Summit , professionals from three successful rural-serving programs showed that when you are determined, work hard and link arms with a diverse set of partners, you can ensure that the residents – especially the littlest ones – get the support they need to thrive.

The panel of experts represented very different communities, some with unique challenges, others with shared experiences. All had examples of how partnerships enabled them to expand their reach and how they have honed their programs over time to be more efficient and effective.  The panel included the Kansas Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program in southeast Kansas, Russell Child Development Center and the Family Support Project at the Pony Express Partnership for Children in northeast Kansas.

Southeast Kansas
MIECHV Program unifies providers around shared mission of working together to serve at-risk families

The professionals focused on helping at-risk mothers, their children and families get the best start in life agreed on one important fact: the need in southeast Kansas was tremendous. They were all working hard, but often alone, to chip away at the problems of poverty, drug addiction, abuse and lack of education.

But when they all came together through the Southeast MIECHV program, the early childhood education partners were able to serve a greater number of families, provide better services and learn valuable new information and practices from one another, reported Dr. Debbie Richardson, home visiting program manager for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The federal MIECHV program was created in 2010 with the goal of supporting evidence-based home visiting services for at-risk pregnant women and parents with young children.  In Kansas, MIECHV has targeted two high-needs regions: urban Wyandotte County and rural Southeast Kansas, which includes Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery, Neosho and Wilson counties.


In southeast Kansas, the MIECHV partners include the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which receives the federal grant funds and manages the program, and local partners Early Head Start, Healthy Families America and Parents as Teachers.

These partners were given a big mandate:

  • Work together to deliver a coordinated system of high-quality evidence-based home visiting program services.
  • Improve child and maternal outcomes through enhanced interventions and system linkages within the comprehensive early childhood system.
  • Sustain high quality data and evaluation efforts
  • Enhance the home visiting system and service coordination

At the onset of the partnership, the agencies were working individually to address the community needs within the scope of their influence, but did not see themselves as a “system” through which they could cooperate and collaborate to better serve the population, Richardson said. So one of the first things the MIECHV team did was pull all the partners together to lay the foundation for a shared future.

“We did strategic planning in communities to set common goals and objectives,” Richardson described. “We created deepening trust and respect, addressing misunderstandings and improving protocol to create a collective perspective as a team, and as a system.”

Together, the partners created a new coordinated outreach and referral system called My Family. The My Family partners include families, community agencies, health departments, local hospitals and the community at large, Richardson said. Families connect through their My Family coordinator, who refers them to the home visiting programs and other services in their community that best meets their needs. The new, collaborative system is succeeding in engaging and retaining families, and helping further address mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence.

Shelli Walrod, a team member with the Kansas Children’s Service League – Healthy Families in Crawford County, has seen firsthand what a difference the MIECHV partnership has made in their community:

“Due to the time spent together, having common program goals and relying on another entity to determine the families that need our services, our partnership have gone from non-existent to true friendship levels. We are continuously thinking of new ways that we can work together to better serve families. Because resources are scarce, staff is over-extended and home visiting is an isolated endeavor, partnerships have become even more critical to the delivery of home-based early childhood education services. Since our relationships have strengthened, our coordination of services and sharing of resources has improved dramatically.”

The proof is in the numbers. Since the program’s inception, they have added 17 full time home visitors and 224 caseload slots, and expanded service availability in additional counties. “We have increased our capacity and enrollment of services to vulnerable, at-risk moms and families,” Richardson said, “Needs that were unable to be met prior to this infusion of federal dollars.”

Southwest Kansas
Russell Child Development Center Provides Essential Services in Remote Regions of Kansas

To understand the scope of the job for the early childhood professionals who work with the Russell Child Development Center (RCDC), you have to first understand the scope of the area they serve:

  • There is a lot of land. The service area is 15,889 square miles, about a fifth of the state of Kansas, and encompasses 19 counties.
  • There are not a lot of people. The official population is 151,784, 13,146 of whom are under 5.
  • The citizens are very diverse. Nearly 40 percent of the residents are Hispanic/Latino and one-in-four households speak a language other than English in the home.
  • There is a lot of need. Nearly 20 percent of the children under 18 live below 100 percent of the poverty level.
  • It’s hard for families to find services. For example, there are only 11 pediatricians in the service area, and these doctors are all located in four of the 19 counties.
  • Services are dwindling. Since 2011, the region has sustained a loss in Parents as Teachers programs, licensed home child care providers, the number of Head Start slots, and the number of public schools offering pre-k or 4-year-old at-risk programs.

The stats could cause discouragement. But for Deanna Berry, executive director of RCDC, and Katrina Lowry, director of the Building Blocks Project, it has redoubled their efforts to serve the children in their care. “Every child matters, regardless of where they live, even if it’s in a county where there are few people and resources,” Lowry stated. “That is challenging, so we adapt.”

One of the ways RCDC has adapted is by taking its programs to residents in all parts of its expansive service area or contracting with local services to deliver the programs.  “We are not a classroom, and not a school,” Berry said. “We are kind of wonky.”

RCDC has a wide group of partners that enable it to serve more children and families, including local school districts, local governments and law enforcement, area hospitals and doctors, social service agencies, and Parents as Teachers and Early Head Start.

Through ECBG funds, RCDC is able to serve 1,900 children through parent education programs, home visiting and before- and after-school programs. Through the Learn & Play Parent Child Groups, delivered at 32 sites, parents discover how to engage in structured play activities with their children. The Positive Parenting Program gives parents a toolbox of strategies to prevent and treat social, emotional, behavioral and developmental problems in their children.

Northeast Kansas
Pony Express Partnership for Children provides wraparound services for families

“We are small but mighty,” said April Todd about the Pony Express Partnership for Children (PEPC), where she is executive director. The partnership provides social services for the 10,000 residents of Marshall County, including children and families.

The PEPC is all about partnerships. It was founded when a group in the community came together to purchase a 100-year-old school for $1 from the school district, turning it into a one-stop shop for social services and supports in the county, Todd explained.

Additional agencies have located next to the center, turning the area into a campus focused on social service delivery. In this one location, families can access Parents as Teachers, Marshall County Lifelong Learning GED Program, Pony Express Infant Toddler Services, NEK-CAP, KVC Behavioral Healthcare, Salvation Army, Department for Children and Families, Pawnee Mental Health Services, and Marshall County Helping Hands Food Pantry.

“Just about every baby born to families in Marshall County is met with some services initially, like a Healthy Head Start visit,” Todd said. “With all the services in one location, 10 staff people can communicate on a regular basis, making it a smooth referral process.”

For example, PEPC has set a goal of reducing child abuse in Marshall County. So it provides wraparound support for families experiencing homelessness or deemed to be at-risk. Since a lack of affordable housing is an issue in Marshall County, PEPC provides step-down rental assistance. Families also receive weekly home visits, screenings for children and other early childhood services.  Even though 25 different organizations are involved in the collaboration, they work together to ensure they do not duplicate services, but instead provide layers of support, Todd said.

In 2016, PEPC served 165 unduplicated families, including 110 children. While Todd would like to have more staff and more financial resources to meet the need, she is pleased with all the program is accomplishing, thanks to the power of its partnerships, which enable them to extend their support.

“In a rural community, you have to have the entire community committed,” she said.

The EC-11 Summit was hosted by the Cabinet on April 18-19, 2017 and highlighted the importance of investing in Early Childhood. We know that there is an $11.00 return for every $1.00 invested in early childhood initiatives in Kansas. The EC to the 11th Power (EC11) Summit focused on the successes of Cabinet-funded initiatives and the power of those programs to improve the lives of children and families in Kansas.



The Impact of Risk and Classroom Quality on Literacy & Numeracy

Classroom Quality and Risk Factors Profoundly Impact Children’s Performance 

Those who work every day with at-risk children know all-too-well the struggles these kids face in overcoming life challenges in order to reach their academic potential. Having the data to back up their real-world knowledge now gives them — and everyone else who advocates for Kansas children — a powerful case for the importance of investing in high-quality early education.

At the EC11 Summit, Wichita State University researchers shared graph after graph of strong evidence that children who face numerous risk factors, like poverty, score lower than their peers who do not. Yet, when these children are in high-quality early learning environments, their academic scores rise, ensuring they have a better chance of success when they enter school.

“As a researcher, in my whole career, I have never seen any data as clear as these. I ran the numbers twice because I kept thinking I had done something wrong,” said Dr. Lynn Schrepferman, senior research scientist at the WSU Center for Applied Research & Evaluation and the lead evaluator for the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund’s Early Childhood Block Grant program.

How do we know this is true? A few details about the data.

“I’m a big nerd: I like data,” Schrepferman laughed as she described her work, culling through the piles of myIndividual Growth & Development Indicators (myIGDIs) and Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) scores for Kansas children 3 to 5. But you don’t have to be a “big nerd” to get excited about her findings, which demonstrate outcomes for the programs that receive ECBG grants.

For the Common Measures Initiative, the researchers chose the myIGDIs and CLASS assessments because they most accurately document child, family, and classroom outcomes for the widest range of grantee programs. These assessments are deemed reliable and valid, sensitive to change, and have normed developmental benchmarks.

The myIGDIs are administered three times a year: fall, winter and spring. Children 4 to 5 years old are measured for literacy and children 3 to 5 years old are measured for numeracy. The Literacy component includes subtests in Picture Naming, Rhyming, Alliteration, Sound Identification, and Which One Doesn’t Belong. The Numeracy component includes subtests in Oral Counting, Quantity Comparison, Number Naming, and 1-to-1 Correspondence Counting.

Data reveal how life risk affects children’s scores

During the 2015-2016 evaluation year, the researchers studied children who had experienced up to four risk factors in their lives. Risk factors can include things like poverty, low parental education, and not speaking English as their primary language at home. Not surprisingly, the children who had experienced zero risk factors consistently scored the highest on the myIGDIs tests, with their achievement rising between the fall and winter tests, then generally holding steady between the winter and spring tests.

What did surprise the researchers was that the results for the students with one to four risk factors followed the same pattern. When at-risk children were part of an early education program, they made the same kinds of gains as the children who had no risk factors.

Data show how classroom quality impacts literacy and numeracy

Additional data gathered during the 2015-2016 evaluation year supported another long-held belief: When young children have great teachers, they do better in school and life. High-quality classrooms are predictive of educational success. And when teachers meet the social-emotional needs of their young pupils, making them feel safe and secure in school, the children make greater gains on test scores.

“Research shows that children who are engaged in classrooms with high-quality teacher interaction see greater academic and social gains,” shared Cassandra LeBrun-Martin, senior research associate with Wichita State University’s Center for Applied Research and Evaluation and affiliate CLASS trainer.

The CLASS assessments, administered in pre-K programs to assess teacher-child interactions, measure three domains: Emotional Support, Classroom Organization and Instructional Support.

Scores jump when teachers provide children with emotional support

The WSU researchers wanted to measure the impact teacher quality has on student performance, so they broke new ground by analyzing how children’s myIGDIs results were affected by the quality of their classroom environment, as measured by the CLASS. The data revealed something big: To help children make the greatest gains in literacy and numeracy, teachers must first create a classroom environment in which the children feel emotionally supported.

“We thought we would take our data and see what it looks like, for classrooms who met and didn’t meet quality standards, and how those compared to children’s myIGDIs scores,” LeBrun-Martin explained.

“We are the first ones to look at the myIGDIs and CLASS. No one else is doing this,” Schrepferman added.

The researchers evaluated 98 classrooms with a total of 795 children, comparing the results of the myIGDIs tests taken in the fall, winter and spring. The literacy scores of children in each of the Literacy domains — Picture Naming, Rhyming, Alliteration, Sound Identification, and Which One Doesn’t Belong? – went up considerably in classrooms that met quality standards versus those that did not. But notably, they went up the most in the classrooms where children had emotional support, defined by a warm relationship between teachers and students, teacher sensitivity to students, and a positive atmosphere.

Click here for the full report.

“The data show it gets better and better as the classroom meets quality standards in all the domains, but the biggest gap in scores is between the classrooms that did and did not meet the standard in Emotional Support,” LeBrun-Martin shared.

“You have to have the emotional support in a classroom – making and building the relationships, helping children manage their time and attention in the classroom – before you can move on to other aspects of learning. If a classroom is not meeting the children’s emotional supports, they are not getting to high-order thinking levels.”

The researchers found the same to be true when they analyzed the children’s numeracy scores. They evaluated teachers in 110 classrooms, with a total of 1,034 students. The data consistently showed that the students in classrooms that met quality standards scored far above students in classrooms that did not. Once again, the greatest discrepancy between the children’s scores was for those who were in classrooms where children experienced emotional supports.

When looking at the data overall, LeBrun-Martin said, “In all the scores, there is progress. And when you meet just one more domain, you get a jump in the test scores. Even the slightest improvement in classroom quality makes the children’s test scores go up.”

The EC-11 Summit was hosted by the Cabinet on April 18-19, 2017 and highlighted the importance of investing in Early Childhood. We know that there is an $11.00 return for every $1.00 invested in early childhood initiatives in Kansas. The EC to the 11th Power (EC11) Summit focused on the successes of Cabinet-funded initiatives and the power of those programs to improve the lives of children and families in Kansas.



Creating Hope for Families

Parents, Children, and the Community Benefit from Drug Intervention Program

Stephanie handed her infant daughter to her friend and champion, then turned to the microphone, mustering her courage, to address the room full of childhood education specialists at the EC11 Summit. Before she could utter her powerful first sentence, she began to tear up. “I am here today because I had someone who believed in me and encouraged me to have a better life. I never thought I would stand before an audience and talk about my life. But I promised myself that if I could make a difference in the lives of others, I would do so.”

What followed was a remarkable story of courage and resilience, how this mother of three reached out to the caring team at the Kansas Children’s Service League (KCSL) for help overcoming her drug addiction, so she could be the kind of parent she wanted to be for her children.

Holding Stephanie’s daughter was Jennifer Gassmann, a specialist with KCSL’s Drug Endangered Child (DEC) program. Gassmann was the one who walked with Stephanie through her journey from addiction to sobriety, and into a new life.

The DEC program serves families with children 0 to 5 in which a parent is currently using or has used drugs, explained Amber Miller, the program’s supervisor. “During home visits, we focus on family functioning, parent-child interaction, child development, and parenting skills. We assess the families and develop goals for personal and family growth, and connection to substance treatment and support.”

In order to remove barriers to parents’ progress, DEC case managers can provide everything from transportation to child care while a parent enters in-patient treatment. Oftentimes, the bond they form with parents is life-changing, as in the case of Stephanie.

From pain to triumph: Stephanie’s story

“I spent my entire life feeling like a burden to my family,” Stephanie began. “I was treated badly as a child, and never felt loved. I felt alone, empty, and depressed.”

She was 38 when she began using methamphetamine to distract herself from feelings of sadness and failure.

“I used when my two kids were with their dad, and convinced myself that if I didn’t use around them, it would be OK,” she remembered. “But they saw my terrible mood swings as I was coming down.”

The day after she turned 40, Stephanie was shocked to learn she was pregnant.  “I had used meth throughout my pregnancy,” she recounted. “I was not prepared for a baby, and to face DCF for my terrible choices.”

Stephanie decided to make big changes in her life. She connected to DEC and received Gassmann as her case manager.

“Jennifer became an angel in my family’s life,” Stephanie said. “She had a way that made me feel safe and cared for. I could confide in her, she didn’t judge my past, and she helped me realize my life mattered. I was strong, and I could do this.”

In the year that Stephanie has been in the DEC program, she has made tremendous strides. She’s maintained her sobriety, received her GED, and learned to manage her finances.  “I have felt better this year than I ever have in my life,” she said.

“I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me get to this point. I can now see that I am a great mom to all three of my kids. I finally want to really live. I love life now and am excited about who I am and my journey. I want to show my kids I’m a fighter; I want them to be proud of me, and I want to be proud of me,” she shared.

Prevention is changing the story for parents and children

“Stephanie’s story isn’t unique,” explained Gail Cozadd, east region program director for KCSL. When people have adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), they are more likely as adults to experience disease, injury and disability; engage in risky behaviors like drug addiction; and suffer social, emotional and cognitive impairment.

“We are focused on preventing child abuse and helping build resiliency among parents,” Cozadd said. “Our mantra is, ‘It’s about the relationships.’ Every piece of research says it’s about safe, stable relationships. Often with families, we become that initial person that can model and teach what a safe relationship can look like.”

As case managers like Gassmann work with parents like Stephanie, they help them connect with necessary resources and walk with them through the treatment process. As a result, the parents build resiliency as they experience and overcome adversities.

Cozadd said Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund resources are being put to work in Kansas to prevent stories like Stephanie’s from ever occurring. They see the results every single day, as parents heal and change course for their children. Said Cozadd: “We know the triumph of the human spirit.”

The EC-11 Summit was hosted by the Cabinet on April 18-19, 2017 and highlighted the importance of investing in Early Childhood. We know that there is an $11.00 return for every $1.00 invested in early childhood initiatives in Kansas. The EC to the 11th Power (EC11) Summit focused on the successes of Cabinet-funded initiatives and the power of those programs to improve the lives of children and families in Kansas.



Swing the Bat

Ed O’Malley on the Power of Leadership in Early Education

Practicing leadership is like baseball. In order to win, you have to swing the bat. When you get a hit, big things happen in early childhood education in Kansas.

In the opening address for the EC11 Summit, Ed O’Malley, president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, laid in on the line: Leadership is powerful. It’s risky and requires sacrifice. You won’t always succeed. But in order to achieve our ambitious goals for children and parents in Kansas, all of us must practice leadership. ­

Leadership is mobilizing people to reach our fondest aspirations. Everyone can lead at any time, in any situation, regardless of their title or job description, explained O’Malley, who has served as a Kansas state legislator and on Kansas Gov. Bill Graves’ staff, guiding blue-ribbon task force committees charged with addressing economic development, education, agriculture, energy, social justice and health care.

It will take a lot more than passion and advocacy on the part of those working in the field of early childhood education to bring about the kind of positive changes that will benefit children and their families. It will take everyday leaders who can effectively mobilize systems for change.

Leadership is Necessary to Reach Your Greatest Aspirations

What are our fondest aspirations for early education? On April 18, 2017, O’Malley faced a room packed with early childhood education professionals from across Kansas, and threw out this provocative question for debate: When you think about the future of your work, what is your fondest aspiration? What are the things that really matter to our state, to our own programs, our agencies, and to the kids we serve?

The audience was quick to respond: We want children to be safe and healthy. We want equity among all children. We want to be effective advocates so everyone can see the value of early childhood education.

O’Malley listened, then said, “None of these things will happen without a whole lot of people exercising a whole lot of leadership. These are the things for which we need to marshal leadership.”

What impedes progress toward our aspirations? Once you’ve identified your most important goals, he coached, you need to then identify the obstacles that are keeping you from achieving them. “What makes progress so difficult for the things we most aspire to?” he asked the audience. “We do kids and families a disservice if we just stop thinking about this at the level of aspiration. If we are serious about exercising leadership, we have to see what the barriers are now.”

The audience broke into groups to identify and report out on the obstacles that thwart their efforts.

“We are splintered as a field,” said one.  “We are all doing the best we can with our funding, but there is no cohesion between us. We have so many different goals.”

Others responded with additional challenges, including the lack of adequate funding for programs, inequity, and a feeling of disconnect between the  early childhood professionals who are providing services and the people in authority who are making the decisions that impact those services.

What do we need to do differently to achieve our goals? “How would you describe the type of leadership it’s going to take to make more progress toward our fondest aspirations? O’Malley asked the audience. “What actions, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs are required from all of us if we are going to overcome the challenges, and make more progress?”

The first, he challenged, is to think of yourself as a leader, capable of bringing about important change. “I don’t think leadership is a positon,” he explains. You don’t need to have a position of authority to practice powerful leadership. Anyone can practice leadership, right where they are, if they take the risk and seize the opportunity.

To Get a Hit, You Have to Overcome Fear and Swing the Bat

We must address the fears that change brings. Many challenges face would-be leaders that keep them from taking action on their ideas, O’Malley says.  One is the work involved in persuading others to change in order to embrace a new idea.

“Don’t buy into the trap that people don’t like change,” he said. “People are fine with change, as long as it’s certain types of change. If the state were to say to you that they wanted to invest billions into early education, you would be fine with that change, wouldn’t you? No, people are afraid of loss, of giving up something they know and facing the possibility of losing something they care about.”

As early childhood education professionals introduce new ideas in their communities, he warned, they will likely bump up against resistance from people who fear that the new idea will result in loss for them personally. Instead of just using data and intellectual arguments to persuade others to adopt your viewpoint, O’Malley suggested speaking openly and honestly with them about the realities of the change and the impact it will have on all those involved.

“A key part of leadership is being able to speak to loss. You need to let them know you understand that you are asking them to do something different,” O’Malley explained. “Resistance isn’t usually because they don’t understand the data – it’s not a matter of knowledge – but the fact that they are having to give something up.  You will get better support if you acknowledge the risk but tell them why you think they should take the risk.”

Leaders face their own fear of failure. Solving the diverse challenges involved with providing early childhood education across the state is not easy. If it was, someone would have already come up with the solutions, O’Malley stated.  But too often, would-be leaders have great ideas they don’t pursue because they are afraid they will fail, that their solution won’t be 100% correct.

“We hold ourselves back out of fear because we might not have the right idea,” he pointed out. “Leadership is incredibly risky; it’s rare because it’s risky.”

Practicing leadership will cost us. All of us have a set amount of time and energy. So when we take on new projects and initiatives, we must redirect a portion of our efforts from other things in which we are engaged.

“Leadership is always a clash of values,” O’Malley said. “If we were more purposeful, working on the things we most aspire to, what would we have to sacrifice? It will cost you something to exercise leadership.”

For O’Malley, practicing leadership is like baseball. In order to get a hit, you have to swing the bat. “Even the best hitters strike out seven out of ten times. Those are moments of learning,” he exhorted. “Sometimes, we see a moment when we can lead, and we connect and make something happen.

When we do that, we will see some special things happen in early childhood education in the state of Kansas.”

The EC-11 Summit was hosted by the Cabinet on April 18-19, 2017 and highlighted the importance of investing in Early Childhood. We know that there is an $11.00 return for every $1.00 invested in early childhood initiatives in Kansas. The EC to the 11th Power (EC11) Summit focused on the successes of Cabinet-funded initiatives and the power of those programs to improve the lives of children and families in Kansas.



Lessons Learned


TOP staff and evaluators had several tips for programs embarking on a similar study:

Take the time to develop relationships. A recurring theme in the story of this project is the strength of TOP’s partnerships. These relationships have been fundamental to carrying out such a large-scale study.

Be transparent. Let both partners and participants know exactly what you are studying and why. It will be vital to both recruitment and participation, and will ultimately improve data quality.

Don’t be afraid of change. Too often, we feel stuck within the confines of our previous decisions. A key strength of the TOP study has been the willingness to acknowledge what isn’t working and fix it. Be pragmatic in your choices and flexible in response to new information.

Allow for your study to expand. Programs and populations change over time; so, too, do the goals of research. Periodically review your research design to determine whether you’re really getting what you need to make decisions and inform others.

Be persistent about tracking procedures. The TOP Longitudinal Study has achieved such high participation rates across levels by being dogged about asking and following up.

“However long you think it will take, double it.” Data collection and analysis are rarely efficient and linear processes. Do your best to plan efficient methods of collection and synthesis, but know that no one gets everything right the first (or second, or third…) time.

Go big! Small additional investments in evaluation can yield large returns in terms of impact. The results of this study are exceptionally useful and compelling because of the scale of the project.

Keep your eyes on the prize. TOP staff, evaluators, and school faculty and administration are all committed to the value of early education, and the power of demonstrating its impact. Your research should be motivated by the same goals that guide your work: improving the lives of at-risk kids.


TOP Key Features



After interviewing the key players who have developed and conducted this ambitious study, and reviewing all reports and instruments, we have identified four key features that make this study distinctive.

Excellent Participation

TOP staff noted that communication is key to this relationship. top-blog-3-bulletsTOP built relationships with school districts, schools, teachers, and administrators, educating them about the goals of the study and why it was important to their overall mission.

Parents were provided with a longitudinal study brochure explaining the premise of the study. TOP program staff noted that generally the only families who do not give consent were guardians of foster children. In order to keep current TOP graduate and parent contact information, TOP staff sends out reminder postcards annually, and maintain a Facebook page (Top South, Top North, Top Northwest) to reach out to parents. Family consent was only half the battle. In order to collect data for the study, school districts’ and teachers’ willingness to cooperate was crucial.

In addition to education and incentivizing participation, WSU researchers have worked to make the teacher survey less cumbersome, so it takes less time for them to complete. Teacher participation has also been excellent. One TOP staff stated that teachers want more TOP children in their classrooms because of their readiness for school.

Targeted Use of Professional Researchers

A second key feature of the TOP study is the targeted use of professional researchers. Rather than simply handing over the reins of the project to WSU researchers, TOP has collaborated with them on the design, data collection, and communication of the results. There are multiple benefits to this approach of using professional researchers in targeted ways. It seems to create a nice collaborative relationship in which the researcher is closely working with staff to ensure they are producing something useful to them. Families and school districts may be more inclined to participate in a study when approached by an excellent local preschool, rather than a previously unknown university researcher.

Strategic Approach to Data

A theme throughout our interviews with TOP staff and WSU is focusing on the key information needed to understand TOP’s impact.

  1. Data or analyses are not strictly necessary to convey the point of the project and may be a waste of effort.
  2. Being selective about what data are presented is key to communicating to a broad audience.

It simplifies data collection greatly, and likely makes it easier to get district and teacher cooperation. Furthermore, it may be true that including individual-level variables is just not that important to persuading others.

There are multiple benefits to this strategic approach to data. It offers necessary focus: on the goals of the project; on respecting time and effort of partners and staff; and finally, on the intended audience. This is not a study designed to sit on a shelf; it’s a study designed to persuade laypeople about the value of high-quality preschool. Second, a strategic approach to data has offered staff and evaluators the flexibility to change what’s not working, or could be working better.

Commitment to Demonstrating Outcomes

Demonstrating outcomes is a central value of this organization. Being able to track and demonstrate effectiveness was always a secondary goal of TOP. The value of doing so seems self-evident to every person we spoke to: all perceived that continued support of TOP is dependent on being able to show long-term results on issues the public cares about.

The study aims to produce convincing data that quality early childhood programs improve children’s well-being – and doing so is considered to be essential to TOP’s ability to continue, grow, and thrive as a program.

top-blog-3-readinessThis level of commitment to demonstrating results can be rare in the world of early childhood services. Many early childhood program staff worry that evaluation takes time and money away from the real work of the organization – the work that will directly benefit children. In a context in which everything is tight – time, money, expertise – and the need is vast, growing, and desperate, it can be difficult to justify directing resources towards evaluation.

In a world in which demand is great and resources are limited, it is crucial that programs be as effective as they can be in helping their target populations. This requires tracking outcomes continuously, systematically weighing the evidence, and continuously looking for ways to improve. Evaluation is part of how you make sure you are helping kids to the best of your ability.


TOP Methods and Results


The TOP Longitudinal Study was designed to provide policy makers, business leaders, and other stakeholder evidence of TOP’s effectiveness over the long term.

Wichita State University researchers issued the first annual report on the longitudinal study in 2009. Over the course of the next 6 years, these reports have demonstrated clear quantitative results. Currently, the study comprises 810 TOP graduates and a control group of 2,596 comparable children.

Eligibility and Consent: The primary criterion to participate in the longitudinal study is eight months of continuous enrollment in the TOP program during the year preceding kindergarten entry. A consent form to participate in the longitudinal study is administered to parents or guardians. Consent covers a TOP graduate through elementary school. A second consent is obtained for middle and high school participation.

Teacher Survey: The social questionnaire asks teachers to compare the TOP graduates to the remainder of the children in their class in order to determine whether the TOP graduates used appropriate social skills more often than their peers.

School Performance Data: WSU researchers compare TOP graduates’ school performance data to a demographically-matched control group using descriptive statistics, including: averages and percentages.

Data Synthesis and Analysis: Since a primary goal of the study is to communicate with non-technical audiences such as members of the business community and policymakers, the reports largely rely on descriptive statistics.


For all grades, teachers rated TOP graduates as having greater emotional maturity, greater ability to behave appropriately, and greater social competence than their classmates. Teacher estimations of TOP graduates’ social-emotional skills were statistically significantly higher than average.

For all grades, TOP graduates have noticeably fewer absences on average than their control group peers each year, from kindergarten through the 6th grade.

When the Wichita and Derby school districts are combined, TOP graduates have a lower percentage of special education placements than their control group peers.

Discipline referrals were taken into account to determine behavioral problems. Only repeat office visits were a measure of discipline referral. When looking at the total numbers of kindergarten through 6th grade students, TOP graduates were much less likely to have discipline referrals.

TOP children in 4th, 5th and 6th grades have a considerably lower percentage of students who do not meet state standards in both math and reading compared to the control group.


About TOP


TOP: An Exemplary Program for Demonstrating Effectiveness

A critical component of collaborating to improve early childhood outcomes is tracking results to demonstrate effectiveness. The Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund is a strong proponent of rigorous evaluation practices and continuous quality improvement. The Cabinet’s Blueprint for Early Childhood offers a vision of what success looks like, in broad terms and measurable goals while offering suggestions of specific measurement tools.

Over the past seven years, a Wichita preschool has engaged in a project unprecedented in Kansas early childhood education: tracking their graduates’ outcomes throughout grade school and continuing to follow them through high school graduation. The story of how this ambitious study came to be is largely the story of the school itself: Wichita’s The Opportunity Project, commonly referred to as TOP.

top-blog-1-mapThe first TOP Early Learning Center opened in 2003. Currently, three TOP Centers serve nearly 700 young children, preparing them for kindergarten and lifelong success. Since 2007, researchers at Wichita State University have been tracking TOP graduates as they progress through elementary and middle school to demonstrate TOP’s effectiveness to a wide audience of stakeholders, including community members, business leaders, and policymakers. This rigorous evaluation provides an opportunity to analyze the return on investment associated with this innovative program, which The Cabinet has presented in The TOP Early Learning Centers Longitudinal Study.

The TOP Longitudinal Study discusses the TOP model and describes the study and its results. The four key features that make the TOP study distinctive:

Excellent participation: The TOP longitudinal study can boast an impressively high level of cooperation among families, teachers, schools, school administration and districts. 95% of all TOP graduates have consented to participate.

Targeted use of professional researchers: TOP collaborates with WSU researchers on all aspects of the study, including design, data collection, and communication of the results.

Strategic approach to data: The study employs a thoughtful approach to collecting and reporting on data, which focuses on the key information needed to understand TOP’s impact.

Commitment to demonstrating outcomes: The study aims to produce convincing data that quality early childhood programs improve children’s well-being – and doing so is considered to be essential to TOP’s ability to continue, grow, and thrive as a program.


Today’s Block Tower is Tomorrow’s Downtown High-Rise: 21st Century Skills Start Early

As our younger generations grow more adept at technological advancements, educators and employers are searching for the tools to both encourage and enhance these skills. Incorporating technology alone may miss key components of preparing a future workforce, bringing about a more recent focus on what are called 21st Century Skills, or abilities such as collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and communication.

At the elementary, middle, and high school level, programs that address the need for 21st Century Skills are emerging both nationwide and in Kansas, including the EPIC Program (Education Practice and Immersion for Credit) recently piloted by the Kansas Enrichment Network  http://www.kansasenrichment.net. In cooperation with after-school programs such as the Boys & Girls Club and The City, as well as municipal authorities, the EPIC pilot program gave at-risk students in Salina and Hutchinson experiential learning opportunities with local industry and business leaders, and focused on conscientiousness, positive self-evaluation, social skills, and cognitive processes. To adequately prepare for the future, young people need to be capable of integrating their technological and media savvy with equally important talents in teamwork and relationships.

When does this start? Ask anyone in the field of Early Childhood, and he or she will tell you it begins well before Kindergarten. The development of 21st Century Skills is the foundation of quality toddler and preschool classrooms, like those supported by the Cabinet. Teachers arrange environments with changing materials, unexpected methods, and room for flexibility and experimentation, all the while encouraging questions, wonder, and creativity. In every interaction that looks like basic play – taking turns, arguing over toys, negotiating rules of games – young children are practicing how to be a good co-worker, contribute to a team, listen to others’ ideas, and accomplish tasks together. Today’s block tower is tomorrow’s downtown high-rise! Kansas is looking toward a bright future, and the skills to get there are being cultivated far earlier than you might think.