Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed a longtime educator to the newly created position of state early childhood coordinator Thursday, taking what he described as the "big first step" toward creating a universal preschool system.
Terry Lock, director of Kamehameha Schools’ early childhood education division, will step into her new job in mid-July, overseeing work to plan a "state structure that supports an early childhood system," bring together state agencies to improve services for children and families, and advocate for public policy improvements to help Hawaii’s children.
At a news conference, Lock said she wants to create an early childhood system that "really serves our children and can be a leader in the nation."
"We need everyone to stand up and step up for young children in the state," said Lock, who has more than 35 years of experience in early childhood education. She received her master’s degree in human development from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, Calif., and has been at Kamehameha Schools for five years.
Lock’s position will be partly funded by a $300,000 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant over the next two years. The grant will also support Tammi Chun, the governor’s education adviser. The governor’s spokeswoman could not immediately confirm Lock’s salary Thursday.
Abercrombie, who has pledged to create a statewide network of child care providers and ensure "every young child in Hawaii has access to high-quality preschool," acknowledged that initiative is being pushed forward as the state is making big cuts to spending, including to education.
But he said re-prioritizing how money is spent will be key to making a statewide early childhood education system a reality.
"We are going to succeed in seeing to it that children get the start that they deserve," he said. "The money isn’t there yet, but we’ve got to make an investment there."
Hawaii is one of 10 states with no state-funded preschool program.
And in 2013 the state also plans to do away with junior kindergarten (saving about $30 million a year). Junior kindergarten is meant for children born too late in the year to qualify for regular kindergarten. The program, launched in 2006, is set to be phased out with the 2012 class of about 6,000 late-born children.
Lawmakers have said the money for junior kindergarten could go instead to setting up a preschool system, but it’s unclear whether that will happen given mounting budget woes.
Meanwhile, Lock said the entire issue should be revisited. She said she supports keeping junior kindergarten but "doing it right." Lawmakers were critical of the program because it was never fully implemented.
At the news conference, Abercrombie said funding a preschool program is about getting "our values straight."
"You’ve got to decide what’s important," he added.
In the 2009-10 school year, about 60 percent of public school kindergarteners attended preschool, but that percentage drops substantially in poor communities.
A growing body of evidence links high-quality early childhood learning with success throughout a person’s academic career and beyond.
Also yesterday the governor announced that the Healthy Start, a child abuse prevention program, will survive thanks to $3 million in tobacco settlement funds. The program was not funded in the last legislative session and was at risk of being shut down.