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Pre-K advocacy group First 8 Memphis holds first public meeting

September 13, 2019

From the Daily Memphian article, September 11, 2019

A new Shelby County nonprofit created to improve early childhood education programs locally held its first board meeting Tuesday morning.

The First 8 Memphis board held its first public meeting at the United Way of Mid-South on Tillman Street to discuss pre-kindergarten funding for Shelby County classrooms, how to measure the success of those pre-k students and finding a permanent executive director.

First 8 Memphis was established earlier this year as the proposed fiscal agent for more than $11 million that Shelby County government and the city of Memphis will appropriate this year for 1,400 pre-kindergarten classrooms countywide. The First 8 Memphis board is expected to meet every other month.

First 8 Memphis is in the process of finalizing contracts with 10 pre-k operators throughout the county including Shelby County Schools and Millington Municipal Schools to support efforts in those districts.

“This is not the end of the game, but it’s going to be future, there’s going to be more evolution of this work,” First 8 Memphis Interim Executive Director Regina Walker said.

First 8 Memphis plans to invest in early childhood programs through a model that begins with supporting quality home visitation programs and leads to child care, pre-K and eventually K-3 with services supported by the nonprofit.

The investment by the county and city will fund only existing pre-k classrooms this year, but may expand depending on the success of First 8 Memphis. Defining what success is and what a “quality” early childhood education program looks like are two of the questions facing the nonprofit as it seeks to establish itself in Shelby County.

“How do parents know when they go to a childcare center or choose a Pre-K classroom what quality looks like?” said board chair Kathy Buckman Gibson. “How do they make that choice for their children?”

The idea for First 8 Memphis came from another Memphis nonprofit, Seeding Success, which focuses on early childhood development to careers. Seeding Success officials spent the past four years developing an early childhood program.

Seeding Success Executive Director Mark Sturgis said two factors they will look at in measuring success of pre-k students this year are student attendance and kindergarten readiness.

First 8 Memphis’ long-term goals mirror Shelby County Schools’ goals of 90% of children to be kindergarten-ready and 90% of third-graders reading on grade level by 2025. According to Seeding Success data, 52% percent of Shelby County children are kindergarten ready and 24% of third-graders are reading on grade level as of 2019.

Establishing relationships with other education stakeholders, pre-k operators and community members will be key in determining the ultimate success of First 8 Memphis, said Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley, who serves on the board.

“I think the biggest challenge is going to be being able to be successfully work with multiple operators that is in theory only going to grow in the future,” Whaley said. “As we’re able to expand more access into more schools and districts. That requires more coordination.”

In other business, the board voted on a resolution to move forward in negotiations with KLB Consulting, a Memphis-based firm, to launch its second search for a permanent executive director. The expected salary for the permanent executive director is $150,000.

Gibson said not having a firm who did not know what Memphis needed was an issue during the last search.

First 8 Memphis previously hired Edgility, a California-based education consulting firm, to lead its search for its first executive director. Edgility came back with three candidates, and the board offered the job to one of the candidates, but the applicant had taken another role.

Deciding not to hire either of the two remaining candidates, First 8 Memphis decided to reopen the search set to begin likely later this fall. Walker was then appointed interim executive director in August as the board looks for a permanent one.