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Cities learn about importance of school readiness at NLC Leadership Academy in Minneapolis.

Approximately 60 elected officials, senior city staff and United Way leaders from 18 cities gathered in Minneapolis last month for a two-day leadership academy on promoting school readiness for young children and supporting informal caregivers.

Hosted by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) and the United Way of America with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the leadership academy highlighted the benefits that cities receive by investing in early care and education.

The learning event, which took place June 26-27, featured efforts in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., to work with family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers in diverse cultural communities, and showcased best practices emerging from cities participating in NLC's Cities and United Ways Promoting School Readiness Project. In addition, academy participants received advice from national education experts and had opportunities to network with peers from other cities.

"Mayors from all across the country are concerned about education, and many are working to improve young people's skills and achievement levels," said Clifford M. Johnson, executive director of the YEF Institute. "Supporting and investing in early education initiatives are a critical part of efforts to close achievement gaps by ensuring that all children enter school ready to learn and succeed in school."

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Investing in Early Education

St. Paul Mayor Christopher Coleman kicked off the leadership academy on the morning of Thursday, June 26 by speaking about his city's significant investments in the future of its youngest children, and why cities have a vested interest in their successful growth and development.

"The St. Paul community is committed to closing the existing achievement gap so that all children are ready to learn from day one," said Mayor Coleman.

In luncheon remarks to the group, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak also talked about the importance of promoting early education.

"Investing in kids is not only the right thing to do, it's the smartest thing we can do," said Mayor Rybak. "All children and youth must be ready and equipped with skill sets that will enable them to compete and succeed in global markets."

Arthur Rolnick, director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, emphasized the benefits for cities investing in early education.

"A key ingredient to economic growth is investment in human capital," said Rolnick. "There is a good economic case for investing in early childhood development. If done right, high-quality, parent-focused early childhood development programs that begin at birth can make an extraordinary difference in outcomes both for the child and society."

Working with Family, Friend and Neighbor Care Providers

Leadership academy participants learned about how they can better identify and serve FFN care providers.

"FFN care is the most common type of child care," said Richard Chase of the Wilder Foundation, a nonprofit organization serving the greater St. Paul area.

He explained that parents often trust and prefer the care of a family member, and also like the flexibility and individual attention that their children receive. Chase also discussed how Minnesota has collected and used data about FFN providers and their needs in order to support and grow school readiness initiatives.

In other sessions, city officials learned about strategies for supporting special populations, developing local and state policies that support school readiness, tapping the expertise and resources of unique partners, and utilizing school readiness resources that have been developed by numerous national organizations.

The leadership academy concluded with city showcase and peer networking sessions that gave team members the chance to network, learn best practices, discuss challenges, and form strategies to strengthen their local school readiness agenda.

Details: To learn more about NLC's efforts to help cities promote early childhood success, visit www.nlc.org/ iyef or contact Tonja Rucker at (202) 626-3004 or rucker@nlc.org.
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Author:Rucker, Tonja
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 7, 2008
Words:627
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