Danville and Pittsylvania County, Va.– At an executive briefing on school readiness hosted by the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce and attended by 95 business leaders, Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania (SBDP) announced that it will receive a $2.9 million grant from the Danville Regional Foundation (DRF) beginning in January 2016. “We are pleased to announce that the Danville Regional Foundation will continue its historic investment in school readiness for the next five years. We are pleased to make this announcement in the midst of a community conversation about school readiness and economic impact,” says Ann Vandervliet Stratton, executive director of SBDP. In 2011, DRF awarded $5.2 million to SBDP, the single largest investment ever made in Virginia to support school readiness.
The mission of Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania is to strengthen the system of individuals and organizations educating and caring for children ages birth to eight. “Our goal is to ensure that young children enter school and remain physically, emotionally and intellectually ready to succeed in life. Over the last five years, SBDP and its community partners have made significant gains to advance this mission,” says Laurie Moran, SBDP Board Chairman.
In 2010, Danville Public Schools had the 5th lowest performance on PALS K in Virginia. PALS K is the pre-literacy assessment used by 99% of public schools in VA to assess reading readiness. Today, an average of eighty five percent of all kindergarteners in Danville and Pittsylvania County scored at or above benchmark on the PALS K. This represents a 51% improvement in Danville and a 13.7% improvement in Pittsylvania County in the last five years. In 2014, the state average was 12.9% which represents a 3.7% improvement.
“With assistance from Danville Public Schools and Pittsylvania County Schools, SBDP was able to utilize preschool history data to identify the segments of the early childhood pipeline with the greatest need for training and support. On kindergarten registration forms, parents report preschool experience which may include a family home, a private childcare provider, Head Start, a church based program, the VA Preschool Initiative or no preschool experience. The schools can then link preschool history to performance on the PALS K. We have seen improvements in every category except for those children with little or no preschool experience,” explains Stratton.
“SBDP also committed to the availability of high quality preschool programs utilizing VA’s Star Quality initiative. When childcare and preschool programs are rated, parents can make informed decisions about preschool options. And when childcare providers and preschool programs have access to high quality training, early learning experiences improve,” says Stratton. Five years ago, there were no star rated childcare centers in Danville or Pittsylvania County. Today, the state participation rate in the Virginia Star Quality Initiative is 8%, whereas in Danville and Pittsylvania County 35% of all eligible programs are participating. In the private childcare category, 85% of eligible programs in Danville and Pittsylvania County participate.
To improve outcomes for children and families, SBDP partners with multiple agencies including Pittsylvania County Schools, Danville Public Schools, the Health Department, the Danville Regional Medical Center, both Head Start programs, both Departments of Social Services, Danville Community College, Averett University, the DP Chamber of Commerce, and Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services. “When system level decision makers, who have the authority to change policy or funding decisions are engaged, progress can be collaborative and swift,” says Jim Bebeau, executive director, Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services.
“Part of Danville Regional Foundation’s mission statement reads that, “understanding that significant community change takes time, the Foundation invests for the long term in efforts that promise sustained positive impact for the Dan River Region. Smart Beginnings is a long-term investment, and it’s one we are proud to have made. Congratulations to the Smart Beginnings team and we look forward to many more years of good work,” says Greg Hairston, board chairman of the Danville Regional Foundation.
Over the next five years, Smart Beginnings will focus on the following key strategies:
• Focus emphatically on children with specific risk factors known to impede school readiness and success
• Promote two-generational approaches with a focus on strengthening adult capabilities
• Incubate change through “Innovation Awards” for innovative, collaborative and sustainable approaches to improving pre-literacy and 3rd grade reading results.
There are approximately 9,000 children ages 0-8 in the city of Danville and Pittsylvania County. And almost four times that number of adults who directly or indirectly contribute to the wellbeing of those children. “Together, we can ensure that gains in pre-literacy are maintained and sustained through third grade; that we strengthen adult capabilities to maintain a healthy home environment conducive to raising “ready” children, and that the local early childhood system is connected, collaborative, and effective,” says Charles H. Majors, chairman of the board of American National Bank and Trust Company and vice-chairman of the SBDP board of directors.
The theme of the briefing was “Job One,” an initiative of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation designed to engage local business leaders and early childhood stakeholders, and to strengthen those partnerships. Katherine Busser, CEO, Virginia Children’s Hospital Alliance, vice-chair, Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the former executive vice president and chief operational risk management officer of Capital One presented information and insights about the importance of early childhood development and its impact on our future workforce.
Opening remarks were made by Ben J. Davenport, Jr., chairman, First Piedmont Corporation, and director emeritus, Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. “Virginia’s business community has long recognized that the talent pool for the future workforce begins with young children who start school healthy and ready to learn,” notes Davenport.
“Virginia’s economic well-being is inextricably linked to the education and skills of its citizens. When young children have access to enriching early learning experiences, they are building the foundation for success in school and in their future careers,” says Kathy Glazer, president of the VA Early Childhood Foundation.“Businesses constantly cite the workforce as one of the top factors in location and expansion decisions. With the emphasis on a skilled workforce, it is important that we have a collaborative education system that begins in early childhood. Children learn how to solve problems, get along with others and enjoy learning very early in life,” explains Laurie Moran, president of the DP Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of the Smart Beginnings Danville Pittsylvania board of directors.