An inspiring gathering occurred recently on the University of Washington campus: a conference that attracted some of the brightest minds around to discuss the many critical issues surrounding early learning in our state. For two days, a team of ParentMap staffers attended seminars, luncheons and panel events led by a veritable “who’s who” of early learning: policy experts, brain researchers, educators, lawmakers and parents. ParentMap’s managing editor, Kristen Dobson, caught up with the director of our state’s new Department of Early Learning, Jone Bosworth, to hear her thoughts on Washington’s new early learning initiatives.
KD: You’ve been on the job about a year now. What’s your take on the energy being put into early learning in our state?
JB: The momentum in this state is phenomenal. There’s nowhere that I go that people don’t have early education somewhere on their radar. The great thing about what’s happening here is that we have an amazing leader in Gov. Gregoire, who really does believe in her heart of hearts — and she acts on it — that we must invest more in children. Even though she may not be governor when we see the return on that investment, it’s so important for our state that we have just got to do it.
KD: Washington is fairly low on the national scale right now in terms of investment in kids. How do you plan to turn that around?
JB: I think Washington state surprisingly fell behind the nation. We did fall behind in early childhood education. I’m not sure why that happened, but now it’s time to turn it around and in fact take it in a much stronger direction than ever before. Because what we see is that a full 50 percent of our kids are not ready to start kindergarten and be successful. We’re just going to have to invest more in the K-12 system, or we’ll wind up investing more in social services, more in criminal justice.
A few states caught the spirit of investing in children sooner than our state, but I have to say with Gov. Gregoire — who’s also the chair of the National Governors Association education committee — I think we are being looked at as the most innovative, as the state that has taken the public-private partnership to a new level. They’re all watching to see what we’re going to do next.
KD: It’s obviously quite a challenge. Do you feel like you’re starting to amass the tools and funding you need to do this?
JB: We have only just begun! We are at a critical mass in terms of people understanding the importance of early learning, but I don’t think we’ve reached every person out there on the street. Last week in Louisiana, they released a poll, and 90 percent of people in that state said, “I will pay more taxes as long as it goes for our youngest children.” We’re not there yet in Washington state and we need to be there.
KD: What’s the one thing you think parents should know about early learning?
JB: The first thing I would tell parents is that you really do need to trust yourself. I know you are looking for safety in your child-care setting, I know you’re looking for the best quality. You need to trust yourself. If you see a child-care setting and something in your gut says, “This doesn’t feel right to me,” then you need to look farther.
I also think you need to reach out to other parents who you know, in your church, in your neighborhood — you can call the Department of Early Learning, too, and we will try to help you find the best child care for your children. But I do think that sometimes we let things get to the “expert” level and parents forget that they can trust themselves. When they’re looking for what they need and want for their children, it might not be what a brain researcher says — it might not be what I say! — but it may be what they want for their child. They know their child best.