Recognizing 14 Head Start leaders who courageously took risks and found bold, game-changing solutions to 2020's challenges.
2020 BOLD Leader: One prize winner of $10,000
A collaborative, empathetic approach to leadership and a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion to understand and address the unique needs of ABCD’s migrant and seasonal farmworker families make Maggie Evans the 2020 BOLD Leader winner.
Since 1999, Maggie Evans has been the chief executive officer of Agri-Business Child Development (ABCD), a Head Start grantee operating 12 migrant and seasonal programs across the state of New York, as well as a regular Head Start program in Seneca County and an Early Head Start program in Orange County. Maggie has led ABCD boldly during the COVID-19 pandemic, thoughtfully collaborating with program staff and families and prioritizing families’ well-being at every turn. In March 2020, ABCD transitioned to remote services to protect the health of staff and families, but immediately set up systems to deliver food to families and educate children at home. Given the nature of ABCD families’ work in agriculture, Maggie understood that parents would still need to work in person, and made reopening for in-person services a high priority. For the past year, ABCD’s focus has been on the physical isolation of families and staff, their basic needs such as food and sustenance, their mental health, as well as financial literacy needs, and technological awareness.
During this time, Maggie did not lose sight of other critical priorities, including diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). ABCD established a DEI Committee made up of three center-level staff and three staff from the leadership team, to address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in ABCD.
"My strength during this time was my unwavering support and advocacy on behalf of staff and families. What I would share with Head Start programs: I have learned that with discomfort and adversity comes opportunity and that there is an innate need in most, to fight together and unite in moments of uncertainty. I have learned that promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion works best because people take ownership of the process and find their true value within the organization. I have learned to listen to my years of experience as I balance my decisions with new ideas in sometimes uncharted territories. I have learned that trusting your team and engaging the vision of others, opens many doors. I have learned to recognize when to be cautious and when to be audacious. I have learned that ABCD is truly blessed to have an array of community partners ready to support us."
2020 BOLD Game Changers: Six prize winners of $5,000 each
Employing a holistic, culturally responsive approach to supporting families with forward-looking leadership focused on compassion and socio-emotional wellness makes Willing Chin-Ma a 2020 BOLD Game Changer.
Willing Chin-Ma is the Managing Director for Early Head Start and Head Start at Grand Street Settlement in New York City, where she has worked since 1998. Grand Street Settlement supports more than 850 children and families each year, many of whom are immigrants to the United States and benefit from their high-quality multilingual services in Spanish and Chinese. When COVID-19 hit, Willing and her team quickly pivoted to remote services, raising additional funds and working with community partners to get personal protective equipment and nutritious food to families, and working closely with parents to engage with their children on educational activities. As grocery store shelves were bare, Grand Street made weekly food distribution available for program families and staff while Willing also planned ahead to keep the centers clean and in good physical condition to build staff confidence but also enable a smooth transition back to in-person services as soon as possible.
On top of meeting families’ physical needs, Willing offered emotional support to Grand Street Settlement’s many Chinese families who were experiencing an increase in hateful rhetoric and violence towards Asian Americans because of COVID-19.
Willing and Grand Street supported the emotional wellness of staff with weekly individual counseling sessions with a mental health consultant and by providing a health and safety manual on COVID-19 by a medical expert to address questions and fears.
As the program turns its attention to recovery, Willing will continue to advance advocacy for healthy child-parent relationships through a continuum of mental, economic, and personal support like a stipend for parents who work with the program as substitute teachers or in other roles that can lead to future employment. Willing is confident these and other programs that support skill-building and the co-learning of parents and children lead the way to stronger families and stronger communities.
"I provided strong leadership during [the] pandemic and transitioned all our Early Head Start and Head Start programs to remote learning. I gave clear directions on how to operate our programs and continued to measure the outcomes of the services for the families. There were no gaps of services and we engaged every family and child with respect and compassion... For 2021, my hope is to continue to support the families with health, education, and guidance to help their children grow and reduce fear and trauma."
Turning the challenges of 2020 into opportunities and keeping the long-term well-being of families at the center of her decisions make Stacy Lewis a 2020 BOLD Game Changer.
Stacy Lewis is the director of Thrive to Five Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County, which supports 850 children and their families in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the initial weeks of the pandemic, with agility and a ‘fail fast’ mindset, Stacy and her team worked to meet families’ needs through virtual learning and home visits. They designed a weekly electronic newsletter for families that included pre-recorded read-alouds, educational activities, and guidance for routines and behavior management, which they translated into multiple languages. To address access issues, they organized a weekly diaper and wipe distribution to families who could not travel, nor find these supplies in stores. Stacy culminated the herculean efforts by scaling up these distributions to include weekend meal packages through the spring and summer, often handing out homemade masks for adults and children.
While simultaneously ensuring the essential needs of Thrive to Five’s families, Stacy also focused on the bigger picture threats to early learning capacity in the Lancaster area. Prior to COVID, only one in five families in Lancaster County had access to a high-quality, early childhood program, and Stacy feared that more families would lose access since two centers with Early Head Start/Child Care Partnerships or state preschool slots were at imminent risk of closure. Stacy was determined to preserve those EHS-CCP spaces, and between June and October 2020, her program successfully licensed two new facilities, took over the failing programs, preserved the care options for the families displaced by the failing programs, and retained more than 100 funded spaces for children ages birth to five in Lancaster, while offering continued employment to more than 20 early childhood professionals.
Stacy believes the Head Start model—differentiated levels of support for children and families that enable them on their journey to economic stability—is what is needed now more than ever.
"I am future-oriented and strong at forecasting where we need to go. I think my greatest contribution has been to use this skill to “tee” things up for the team and then trust others to bring the best ideas and own the solutions, giving them the support they need and then stepping out of their way. I embraced the uncertainty, this lack of having an immediate answer, by conveying the confidence that we will figure it out—that with each challenge, anticipated or unanticipated, we come through it even stronger and more aware of who we are than when we went into it. During this time I advocated, we could not keep waiting for directions and that we would need to make informed, independent action, deliberately and carefully."
Approaching obstacles with a strengths-based foundation and abundance mindset—the belief that everything necessary to resolve a challenge already exists—combined with a focus on socio-emotional safety and connection makes Melissa McPheeters a 2020 BOLD Game Changer.
As a family support specialist with Franklin Pierce Learning Center Head Start in Parkland, Washington, Melissa McPheeters provides direct service support to twenty families, as well as support with behavioral management, social-emotional learning, and individualized trauma-informed practices to several Head Start classrooms. While not necessarily part of their role on paper, Melissa also took on leading staff wellness initiatives when the pandemic hit last year and the Franklin Pierce Early Learning staff, like everyone, found themselves thrown into a world of new challenges. Melissa is currently earning a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on trauma and resilience, but for them, this work goes beyond the classroom and is core to all interactions with families and coworkers.
In addition to optional daily self-care meetings for staff, Melissa also set up daily technology support sessions, knowing that staff and families needed support learning how to use unfamiliar platforms. Additionally, when Melissa became aware that preschool children were the lowest priority for receiving devices in the school district, they advocated both individually and with the support of the Franklin Pierce's Equity Team to rectify the inequity. Ultimately, their students were able to gain access to devices with the same priority as older students in the district.
"I approach obstacles with a strengths-based foundation and abundance mindset: that everything necessary to resolve a challenge already exists; we only must identify and leverage those assets. When issues arose, I sought to advocate with antiracism and trauma-responsive practices at the forefront of my efforts. I saw the shift to digital platforms as an opportunity rather than a hindrance to connect with children and their families, as well as with one another as staff. I leveraged my understanding of technology to optimize the engagement opportunities with families, through newsletters, the daily support group, and recorded content with the support of teachers. The incredible team that I have the opportunity to work with makes my leadership possible. Their kindness, collaboration, and friendship allow me to advocate for the best interests of the children and families we serve. Their support, openness, and willingness to try new ideas allow me to take risks in my work. I hope to have inspired them by pushing back when something was inequitable and/or harmful–for children or for staff, including when that meant challenging the education system as a whole."
Leading staff and families through concurrent crises with consistency, creativity, and compassion with acute prioritization of families’ physical needs, staff’s comfort, and community partnerships makes Nicolee Mensing a 2020 BOLD Game Changer..
Nicolee Mensing is the Senior Director of Head Start & Early Head Start at Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties in St. Paul, Minnesota, which supports 1,400 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in home-based and center-based services. They serve a diverse immigrant and refugee population, with more than 40 languages represented.
In 2020, due to their proximity to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests calling for racial justice, Nicolee and her team supported children and their families through multiple challenges and changes at once. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Nicolee immediately identified food assistance as a primary need in their community. Over 14 weeks, they held 42 food and supply distribution events, serving 13,524 meals to Head Start and Early Head Start children. In addition, they partnered with a local nonprofit to distribute over 1,000 boxes of culturally responsive food for all members of their Head Start community. When their main building, which was the primary food distribution site, sustained considerable damage during protests, Nicolee and her determined team did not miss a beat in continuing to get food to families. When the building was deemed unsafe for occupancy, the team bought additional coolers, set up outside, and distributed food to 200 families, just like every other week. Not only was it critical to get families the nutrition support on which they depended, but Nicolee knew that in the midst of two significant crises in their community, it was important for families to see Head Start as a pillar of strength, support, and a light that they could count on.
At the same time, Nicolee was planning to bring children back into classrooms as quickly and safely as possible. She and her team spent two months creating a “Return from COVID” plan, opening eight Head Start classrooms in July, which set them up for success when they scaled up to 42 classrooms in September. The smaller summer program allowed them to figure out how to implement new health protocols and gave staff the opportunity to feel more comfortable returning after they watched their coworkers remain safe over the summer.
"One quote that has resonated with me during this pandemic is ‘“...it’s better to build a longer table than a taller fence.’” One thing I have learned in this pandemic is that sometimes during a crisis, it is easier to put up a wall, but building a table, and making sure others have a seat at that table leads to better outcomes. This philosophy will guide our program as we move into 2021 and look to expand center-based Early Head Start services, enhance partnerships with our child care and school-based partnerships, and continue to improve the quality of our Head Start services for the children, families, and community we serve."
Leading for the present and the future, valuing all voices, with an eye toward a reimagined education system that works for all children, makes Alina Vega a 2020 BOLD Game Changer.
Alina Vega is Vice President of Child Development, Prevention & Early Education for Vista Del Mar Child & Family Services in Los Angeles, California. In this role, Alina oversees operations for Vista del Mar’s two Early Head Start (EHS) programs, their EHS home-based program, and EHS-Child Care Partnerships. In 2020, Alina supported her staff of 50 and the families they serve through the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened calls for racial justice, fears of deportation, and the effects of ravaging wildfires, all of which had a tremendous impact on their Los Angeles community. Alina recognized that any one of these events would be stressful and traumatic on its own, but with all of these events combined, families were experiencing significant trauma.
There was no way to be fully prepared for what 2020 would bring, but Alina and her team started establishing policies and procedures in the months before the March pandemic shutdown that could support distance services. They created new consent forms for telehealth, invested in virtual platforms for curriculum and screenings, and started to identify what technology had to be updated. They provided children with tablets and some families with hotspots to assure they could stay connected thanks to their advance planning, which enabled them to address these needs before the demand for these devices had skyrocketed and created a shortage.
Alina was the leader her program needed through this time: calm, focused, collaborative, and open to innovation. Alina saw the events of 2020 as an opportunity as well as hardship, an opportunity to look at the big picture and think about how early education could better support families, especially those who have been marginalized. Alina’s forward-thinking ideas and truly collaborative leadership make her a 2020 BOLD Game Changer.
"Vista Del Mar / Home-SAFE is located in Los Angeles, one of the most impacted areas in the country as it relates to COVID-19, civil unrest, fear of deportation, and ravaging fires. The amount of trauma and stress that our community is facing is unprecedented and frankly feels insurmountable at times...We in the Head Start community are pioneers of the moment. We are, as they say in business, ‘building the plane as we fly it.’ I won't be paralyzed hoping for normal to return. Normal is and will be what we make of it. We have a very important opportunity to re-think education and re-align ourselves to raise children who are ready for the world they will grow up in. To have the courage to reexamine systems that oppress young children of color and rebuild them so that they work for all children. Basing our decisions on data and science and pushing ourselves to think past what we have always done. I hope to learn from the experiences I have had and move ahead with the mental health of children and families in mind. I believe we have a hard road ahead, but choose to focus on the opportunities."
A profoundly reflective, relationship-based approach, believing that although physical distance is necessary in the pandemic, emotional connection is imperative as the most important protective factor for children and families, makes Anat Weisenfreund a 2020 BOLD Game Changer.
Anat Weisenfreund is a fierce advocate for Head Start children, families, and staff. Since 2009, she has been the director of Community Action Pioneer Valley (CAPV)’s Head Start and early learning programs in western Massachusetts. They serve pregnant women and the youngest children and families in center-based, home-based, and family child-care options in a 1,700 square mile, mostly rural service area. Under Anat’s leadership, CAPV has adopted a strengths-based and trauma-informed approach in which families are valued as essential partners and staff also are valued, cared for, and recognized as each other’s most valuable resource. As the pandemic hit, Anat knew it would put this approach to the test—would staff and families truly feel supported and empowered as they were engulfed in such collective trauma?
“Through the unprecedented disruptions of 2020, we learned that it works,” Anat says. “Consistent, empathic, and reflective listening and messaging to staff resulted in a workforce that felt deeply supported and appreciated, and were then able to offer the same connection, recognition, and support to children and families.” While addressing the physical and emotional needs of her own staff and families, Anat was also able to look at the bigger picture. She recognized her staff as essential workers that showed up each and every day, enabling parents to return to their essential jobs. And yet, they were not being prioritized for testing and vaccination with the same priority as K-12 educators. Anat initiated and led weekly meetings for all Massachusetts Head Start grantees to support and learn from each other and identify important advocacy items. She leveraged her position as Chair of the Massachusetts Head Start Association and Board member of the Massachusetts Association for Infant Mental Health, and her strong relationships with national, state, and community leaders to influence national and state guidance, which resulted in revised requirements, increased flexibilities, and eventually the prioritization of the early childhood workforce for COVID vaccinations.
"At the center of my work and deeply aligned with the mission of Head Start, is to use all possible resources and strategies to ensure the healthy development of the youngest, most vulnerable children and families...On an advocacy level, energized by the urgency of the pandemic, I learned to trust my instincts and my voice as never before. My advice: build strong, diverse teams invited to think and speak independently so that you have true partners in this difficult work. Seek and receive regular reflective mentorship so that you can become increasingly effective. With vulnerable babies and families always at the center, know that it’s the strength of relationships that will determine the quality of care."
2020 BOLD Thinkers: Seven prize winners of $1,000 each
A relentless champion for children and families with a skillful ability to forge community partnerships and a tireless work ethic makes Kristina Bedikian a 2020 BOLD Thinker.
Kristina Bedikian is the Nutrition Coordinator for Acelero Learning Early/Head Start Clark County, where she has worked for 10 years. Nutrition services are a critical piece of Head Start’s comprehensive model of support. In her role, Kristina creates the breakfast, lunch, and snack menus for children, works with children with food allergies and special diets, overweight and underweight children, and now, she runs the food distribution program for Acelero families, staff, and the entire community.
When COVID-19 hit back in March 2020, Kristina knew that pausing in-person services meant that 1,447 children would no longer be able to come to school and count on a stable, nutritious meal, or even escape a tough situation at home. Kristina is dedicated to giving back and supporting children and families in any way she can. Without missing a beat, she began collecting diapers, wipes, formula, and G-tube formula. She befriended the managers at her local Sams Club to work around the limited purchase rules in place and stored cases of supplies in her garage to distribute to families.
As Acelero’s Nutrition Coordinator in a situation where food insecurity was a primary concern, Kristina worked quickly and innovatively to get food to families. Kristina already had a partnership with Three Square Food Bank, with whom she’s worked to host farmers’ markets for the past three years. She turned to them and learned about the drive-through food distributions they were hosting across Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada. Kristina began volunteering with them Tuesday through Friday to hand out food to the community and shared the distribution site locations with Acelero staff and families in a weekly email. By June, Kristina was able to set up drive-through food distributions at three of Acelero’s centers each week, which continue to provide food to the community today. Kristina was the leader in establishing these sites, but her infectious energy, close attention to health and safety guidance, and effective communication brought many Acelero staff on board to help run the sites.
"What makes me a 2020 BOLD Leader is my heart, my passion, and my dedication to help those in need...Food insecurity is at an all-time high across the nation. Nutrition is key in education, learning, and growing developmentally for our children. I will continue to host drive-through food distributions and work with our food service team to provide meals for the household along with meals for the children. By doing this, hopefully, it will help ease some stress off the families to focus on other issues they may be struggling with. I will continue to gain more community partners and bring up-to-date resources to give to our Acelero staff and families to help them through this pandemic and uncertainty in 2021."
An out-of-the-box approach and comfort with uncertainty, coupled with transformational leadership, make Dr. Elizabeth DeCamilla a 2020 BOLD Thinker.
Dr. Elizabeth DeCamilla has been the Quality Assurance Manager for the Pasco County Head Start/Early Head Start program for the past 16 years. Their service area is 742 square miles, with the west side of the county located on the Gulf of Mexico and more urban, while the east side of the county is rural with defunct sawmills and farms that rely on migrant workers. During the pandemic, Pasco County saw a rise in homelessness due to job loss, low wages, and a shortage of affordable housing. They also saw an increase in the number of children living with grandparents as a result of COVID-19 and opioid addiction. These factors contributed to a lack of access to technology, and internet for educational, social, mental health, and recruitment purposes, making it challenging to connect with children and families.
Despite the challenges, Elizabeth immediately began creating a developmentally appropriate virtual model of a Head Start classroom in March of 2020 that included each aspect of the day at their centers: handwashing, family-style meals, and nutrition, morning school/family meetings, high-quality video read alouds (with an intentional focus on both men and women as readers), and language/literacy and STEAM activities. She worked with their education administrator to create content for 12 weeks of instructional and social-emotional learning strategies. Elizabeth was adamant they would not merely provide parents with a list of educational websites and leave the learning to them, but would instead become true partners in education at home.
Elizabeth forged a relationship with the school district's eSchool administrator who connected her to a virtual kindergarten teacher who turned all of Pasco County Head Start/Early Head Start’s content and ideas for virtual learning into a developmentally appropriate and visually appealing course in the CANVAS online learning management system. They then trained the Head Start teachers on using CANVAS so they were able to host morning meetings with their children through Zoom each day and hold a class read-aloud twice a week. Elizabeth also purchased materials including art supplies and books for the children to complete their learning activities. Teachers and family advocates delivered the materials, along with an iPad or laptop and a hot spot if needed, to families.
Elizabeth also continued to work on pandemic-appropriate enrollment capabilities, creating a virtual 'face-to-face' application interview through Zoom and a drive-through registration process. Through the virtual interviews and drive-through system, Liz and her program were able to process 1,200 applications. Despite the new systems and families’ uncertainty around in-person services, this was one of their strongest recruitment years on record.
"What I have learned through my bold leadership experiences is that if you have a vision that you truly to your core beliefs is fundamentally right or needed for children and families, you must move forward. There will always be naysayers, time constraints, and budget constraints, but if you truly have the ability to guide the systems needed for the change, change will come and others will follow. The other piece of advice I would give is, change is hard and it is not linear. There are many ebbs and flows and definite course corrections will be needed. The goal is to be aware of this ahead of the game and follow your gut with action, intentionality, and pride for children. I truly believe that by leaving your ego at the door and being ok with… ’that didn't work, let's try it this way’.... anything can be done for children and families."
A willingness to take essential risks and an "all-in" investment in children and families' betterment makes Deb Hedricks a 2020 BOLD Thinker.
Deb Hendricks is the ERSEA Coordinator for Marion Community Schools Head Start in her hometown of Marion, Indiana, where she is responsible for recruitment, enrollment, attendance, and more. Deb and her team at Marion Community Schools Head Start encountered many of the same challenges other programs faced in 2020: food insecurity among families, difficult decisions around operating in-person versus remotely, changes to their program when they did open in-person, and high levels of trauma and stress among families and staff because of all the changes happening around them. In addition to many typical decisions to address these challenges, Deb and her team took a creative approach to help families and staff cope with the trauma created by the pandemic and ensuing economic fallout—a therapy dog.
During the spring of 2020, Deb and her team were brainstorming ways they could support the mental health of children and staff and raised the idea of a therapy dog for their program. There were, of course, risks, questions of funding, and uncertainty around the logistics, but after careful consideration, Deb was one of the deciding voices to say they just needed to go for it, knowing that so much of preschool is social-emotional learning, and so many were dealing with the isolating effects of the pandemic. Deb knew the therapy dog would benefit the entire school community.
The dog, Westin, has been an amazing addition to the program. He helps children regulate their emotions, cope with separation anxiety from their parents, practice patience, and so much more. Just as important, and somewhat unexpectedly, he has also become a reliable friend to the teaching staff, providing comfort in a stressful year.
"It's easy to talk about the challenges and stresses and feel overwhelmed and inadequate. But to take steps to be innovative and think of new ways to serve children and families takes a lot of effort and courage, especially when it's easy to do things the way we have always done them. We have a strong, quality program that has been in our community since 1965. We are well-respected and could be satisfied with the status quo. However, we know that there are always ways to make our program better and more effective, and we aren't going to let COVID-19 be an excuse to be less effective or present in our community and in our services to our students and families."
Turning necessity into opportunity by creating new nature-based play spaces, a determination to maintain family and staff connection to reduce feelings of isolation, and a constant focus on hearing all voices make Laure Hopper a 2020 BOLD Thinker.
Laure Hopper is the Program Director of South Central Human Resource Agency Head Start and Early Head Start in Fayetteville, Tennessee, where she leads what she describes as one of the hardest-working teams in the United States.
One long-term goal that Laure had not yet realized before the pandemic was to develop natural playgrounds and encourage more outdoor time connected to nature rather than static plastic play structures. With the benefits and additional safety of outdoor time becoming more urgent due to COVID-19, Laure managed to accelerate this vision at her program sites, changes that will benefit future generations of children in the years to come.
As Laure navigated the challenges of 2020, she prioritized flexibility, communication, and coming together as a team. “While we, as a program, cannot solve all of the problems that COVID-19 brought into our lives,” Laure reflected, “we can alleviate the feelings of isolation and help provide a support system to help us get through this adversity.” And that’s what Laure did for families and staff. The program’s service area covers a large rural landscape, which made all-staff meetings fairly infrequent and challenging before the pandemic. But Laure recognized her team’s need to be in communication with one another not only to understand the rapidly changing health guidance and operating plans but also to feel connected and supported. The South Central Human Resources Agency Head Start and Early Head Start staff now have weekly virtual meetings, and even as changes have begun to slow down, the staff have expressed the desire to maintain this regular schedule because it has allowed them to connect with each other—despite the geographic distance—in a meaningful way.
"I have learned that we are a strong team with deep roots in our mission. I have been reminded that getting to our intended goal does not have to follow the same path as long as we reach our destination. My advice to other programs is to stick together because a team spirit is needed when encountering unknown situations. Teams often follow the leader's demeanor. A stressed leader is likely to have a stressed team. I have focused on the idea of being fluid during this experience and I believe that my team has followed suit."
Exemplifying ambitious and welcoming leadership, serving with integrity, and grounded in faith makes Macy Jones a 2020 BOLD Thinker.
Macy Jones is the Head Start Director at Alexander County Head Start in Taylorsville, North Carolina. Last year, Macy’s small North Carolina community was hit hard by COVID-19 cases, as families struggled with food insecurity and the economic impact of the pandemic. In addition, a local Black Lives Matter march divided the town and was countered by members of the KKK and other white supremacist protestors. With all of this happening around them, Macy knew that her program’s children, families, and employees would need strong and consistent social/emotional support. She hired a full-time licensed clinician to provide support for their children, families, and staff, held regular meetings to discuss topics like racial inequality, continued working towards hiring a third staff person for every classroom to better support children who have experienced trauma, and worked with partners like the North Carolina Emergency Management System to get families what they needed.
One lesson that Macy learned this year is that in times of crisis, leaders cannot fall apart. The multiple critical issues facing her Head Start community and the larger community pushed her to deliberately step up as a leader in new ways. Last year, Macy ran for County Commissioner, and while she did not win, the statement her candidacy as an ambitious Black woman made was in its own way a victory. As a leader, Macy believes that especially when confronting difficult challenges, you often have to stop thinking about something, and just do it. That’s what led to her run for office and also the bold leadership that supported her Head Start families and staff through such a turbulent year.
"I am a BOLD leader because I had the courage to run for County Commissioner knowing that I did not have a chance to win the election. I ran to make a statement... I am a BOLD leader because I am a person of integrity and wisdom. One without the other can be dangerous. I've learned that just because I can say or do something, doesn't mean that I should. This is wisdom. I've learned that people listen to what I say, but they watch what I do. This is integrity. Looking ahead to 2021, I will lead by example. I will rely on my faith, wisdom, education, and life experiences to continue to guide and strengthen my children, staff, families, community, and to support the Head Start mission. I'll keep learning, reading, and serving. I'll continue to consult with stakeholders to make sure that our visions are aligned and accurate but yet flexible. I'll continue to step up and speak up when it's not popular... I will do so with grace, compassion, and a little bit of firmness and definitely sincerity."
Adapting leadership style and scaling systems already in place to meet current and future demands make Maria McNair a 2020 BOLD Thinker.
Maria McNair is the Deputy Director for Duval Head Start and Early Head Start in Jacksonville, Florida, where she manages the day-to-day operations of the program, serving 1,400 children and their families. In March 2020, no one fully understood the toll COVID-19 would eventually take, but Maria and her team were perhaps as prepared as possible. Being located in Florida where hurricanes are common, they are no strangers to emergency preparedness and disaster recovery.
First, Maria took stock of what issues they would face in transitioning to remote operations. She quickly came to understand that they lacked the technology to support staff through remote work and to adequately transition to a distance learning model for children. Her problem-solving approach is always to look at what can happen immediately to address the issue, and then think about how to address the long term. To that end, she met with the core leadership team to brainstorm solutions, which led them to use ReadyRosie, a research-based parenting curriculum and family engagement tool they had launched earlier in the year. This became the main platform to share and document daily lesson plans with families. Not starting from scratch in learning a new tool went a long way in helping families and staff adjust to virtual programming.
Under normal circumstances, Maria would describe herself as more of a behind-the-scenes leader, but 2020 was far from normal, and she embraced the role of stepping into the forefront and increasing her visibility to provide a level of guidance and calm support for her staff. Maria led training sessions and was in constant communication with staff and families. She also deepened Duval Head Start / Early Head Start’s engagement with the local disaster preparedness and recovery coordination committee, an ongoing relationship that proves critical in times of crisis.
"I do not see risks as a bad thing and I remain calm under pressure. If my team sees me calm, they, in turn, remain calm while we deal with the challenges that come our way. I have spent a lot of time on continuous process improvement. I am driven by our program's results. If I don't see the results we are looking for, I start a conversation with the team to find out why and what we can do differently. I believe the key to responding to COVID-19 is to not look at it as an isolated emergency. Although words cannot describe its devastating impact, we cannot forget that this health crisis is an emergency like other emergencies we may face in the future, including natural disasters that quite frequently affect our region. My approach is to look for and implement strategies and solutions that help us with COVID, but also prepare our program for future emergencies."
Growing the expanse and impact of leadership by involving others as decision-makers and giving space for creative problem solving makes Jessica Moore a 2020 BOLD Leader.
Jessica Moore is the Early Childhood Services Director at Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency in Highland Park, Michigan. The program holds two grants and serves nearly 1,100 children. For Jessica, the challenges of 2020 illuminated what community truly means. Jessica saw the need among her families for food, household supplies, and at-home learning materials. She also saw the importance and mutual benefit of helping local small businesses stay afloat.
These long-term relationships with local businesses have helped her program in many ways in the past, and helping them keep their doors open was a key part of her strategic problem-solving. Partnerships with a small-scale wholesale food supplier, a local food bank, and an educational toy store became mutually beneficial relationships that helped the community through the turbulent year by becoming a lifeline for businesses facing shutdown or closure.
On top of supporting families with access to food and materials, Jessica approached staff support in a new way. Staff were, of course, navigating their own challenges during the pandemic, and Jessica placed a high priority on self-care and communication. At the same time, she looked to them for advice and collaboration in planning.
Jessica’s visionary approach and inclusive thinking have created a symbiotic network that she looks to be a new service model going forward.
"Martin Luther King said, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’ 2020 was our moment of challenge and Wayne Metro Head Start rose to meet it. I will continue to look for opportunities to strengthen the family unit and keep them connected during times of uncertainty: supporting basic needs, continuing to decrease the digital divide, and providing and connecting families to training and growth opportunities. I will also continue to support small businesses. I am also using this time to strengthen staff skills to be able to support families in different ways utilizing new and innovative tools/methods. Bold leadership isn’t about what I could do or did alone. Bold leadership is about who I can bring along to show our families and community that they are not alone."