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Family experiences inspire Watt's early learning work

As a Boeing Company executive, Bob Watt knows the value of well-educated employees and how they contribute to a company's success. As a parent and former head of two social services agencies, Watt also recognizes the value of providing parents with the information they need to help their children succeed in school.

That's why Watt, Boeing's vice president of government and community relations, is committed to the concept of early learning and is proud of Boeing's efforts to promote early childhood education throughout the region.

"Investing our time and resources in early childhood education and school readiness efforts is essential to building a stronger community and maintaining a world-class region," says Watt, who has two grown children and two grandchildren. "We also need to work extra hard to make sure that all our children benefit from these efforts, because right now it is sadly not the case."

Prior to coming to Boeing in 2002, Watt's career included leadership positions in the private and public sectors, serving as president and CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, as managing director/co-founder of PhyCom Corporation and as deputy mayor of the City of Seattle under former Mayor Norm Rice. He also spent five years as president of Family Services of Seattle/King County, and more than 12 years at Bellevue-based Youth Eastside Services, including five years as the organization's executive director.

We asked Watt, ParentMap's hero for February, to share his thoughts on how his personal and business experiences have shaped his views on school readiness efforts.

Q. You have a long record of service with organizations that focus on families. How did you get involved in that type of work?

A. I was very active as a young person (started at 8 years old) in volunteering in the community. I also spent time (one year, full time) as a VISTA volunteer in my early 20s. So my current involvements are just part of who I am and have been for a long, long time.

Q. I understand that you are an adoptive parent. Has that influenced your work with families?

A. I have two adult children. Our oldest child -- our daughter -- is a child born to Juanita (my bride of 38 years) and me, and the second child -- our son -- came to us when he was three days old, via adoption. We are a thoroughly mixed-race family and that fact has certainly influenced my life and work and understanding about the world. Our son is African-American, Juanita is Puerto Rican and I have learned many valuable lessons about life from her and both our children.

Q. Explain your commitment to Early Learning -- how are you involved and why is it important to you?

A. I think it is increasingly clear that what shows up as the so-called "achievement gap" is more accurately described as a preparation gap and one that can be largely overcome with some extra support for those children most likely to start school already behind their classmates. Early learning support will help a great deal and so will continued efforts to help all school children reach high standards of excellence. I have learned via direct and painful experience that some teachers hold very different thoughts in their hearts and minds about what a "white" girl can learn versus what an African-American boy can learn.

Q. Why do you think it's important for businesses such as Boeing to care about issues such as Early Learning and other family- and child-friendly initiatives?

A. At Boeing, we're working with early learning experts and other businesses to help create a network of support for parents that is best in the world. By working together we can provide parents and caregivers with the information they need to get children off to the right start. Together, we have the ability to revitalize our economy and lead the nation in international trade, cutting-edge technology and other business areas. The key to making this happen is education. Our schools need to produce skillful citizens who will become tomorrow's engineers, surgeons, research scientists, teachers and entrepreneurs.

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