Southern Imaginations helps Michigan collect feedback and plot course for free PreK for All

This article is part of Early Education Matters, a series about how Michigan parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators are working together to implement Pre-K for All. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
A collaborative partner with the Policy Equity Group and a member of Governor Whitmer’s PreK for All taskforce, Atlanta, Georgia-based Southern Imaginations has been brought in to help formulate recommendations for rolling out free, universal pre-k to all Michigan 4-year-olds. To that end, Southern Imaginations’ CEO and managing member Shelby Holman has helped lead conversations with stakeholders as well as listening sessions with Michigan parents, early childhood educators, childcare providers, and intermediate school districts. Early Education Matters recently chatted with Holman about Southern Imagination’s role in PreK for All.

Q. What is Southern Imaginations’ role in Michigan’s PreK for All roll-out?

 A. We developed a comprehensive questionnaire that we utilize to guide conversations and discussions around what are some of the priorities of the key stakeholders throughout the State of Michigan — individuals representing agencies, school districts, the Department of Education, public charter entities, and private schools. So, we had a variety of different ideas and backgrounds and functions represented within these stakeholder interviews. We were able to capture a wealth of information.

Concurrently, we also started to conduct the community input sessions, some of those led by my team, some of those were collaborative with the Policy Equity Group. Throughout all of those, we were able to have some one-on-one discussion with the general public and the residents of Michigan about their thoughts and ideas about not only the proposal for universal pre-K expansion within the state, but where the state of childcare currently existed — what was working well for various communities within the state and what were some opportunities for improvement.

So, we've had a chance to engage key stakeholders, community members, parents, childcare agency owners from all of the various types of entities from home family childcare to what's currently permissible under GSRP funding in childcare centers.

Now, we're conducting data analysis from those stakeholder interviews and community inputs as a representation that can be shared with decision makers and policy leaders around what are some of the potential enhancements that can be made to the existing GSRP [Michigan pre-K] program that will allow for its statewide rollout as well as accessibility for eligible children and families throughout the State of Michigan regardless of location, race, culture, or demographic.
Q. What expertise does Southern Imaginations bring to the roll-out?

A. We have a very diverse set of skill sets on the team within the firm. I'm a certified grants management specialist and have nearly 20 years of experience in the early childhood education industry. I've had the wonderful opportunity of working nationally, directly hands-on with providers, early childhood educators, and federal agencies to create some of these programs. We also have a very thorough systems engineer that is proficient in technological management systems, both hardware and software. So, we have been able to provide some support with ensuring that participants who could not attend the sessions had an opportunity to attend virtually — as well as the data analysis and the data management of this wealth of information that we've had coming in from numerous sources. We have provided administrative support in numerous areas, which is one of the common themes that I think everybody from a business standpoint kind of struggles with at some point.

Shelby Holman leads listening session in Yspsilanti.
Q. During the listening sessions, what were parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators the most excited about?

A. A couple of things that they were excited about [was the] opportunity to increase the service offerings throughout the state … the fact that this opportunity was being expanded and now going to be available via mandate to all eligible 4-year-olds within the state regardless of income. Also, people were excited to be looking at the opportunities for potential enhancements and change when it comes down to limitations and restrictions on the various forms of eligibility for family child care operations. There never were any promises about ultimately what the legislature and the budget will support, but having the opportunity for these things to be considered was one of the biggest reasons for people wanting to participate in this process.

Q. During those same listening sessions, what were parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators the most worried about?

A. One of those was how the workforce is going to be supported within this process, not only the availability of qualified teachers but also the quality metrics that are associated with these critical services to four-year-olds. How is this going to be managed? What kind of support are their teachers going to get? How is this going to be sustained over a period of time in future administrations?

What we've conducted and engaged in, thus far, has been very fruitful and beneficial. It’s going to be dependent upon policymakers and leaders to decide what direction the state of Michigan moves in going forward and how to best be able to sustain that within this statewide offering. Hopefully, we can continue to play our part in making that happen and provide a level of support in an ongoing fashion.

Estelle Slootmaker is project editor for Early Education Matters. Contact her at [email protected].

Photos by Doug Coombe

Early Education Matters is a series about how Michigan parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators are working together to implement Pre-K for All. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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