Special Report

In Massachusetts, Local Collaboration

By John Gehring — January 10, 2002 2 min read

Riverway Early Learning Center in Lawrence, Mass., exemplifies the state’s approach to providing high-quality care for its youngest children by encouraging collaboration at the local level.

The center runs programs sponsored by seven different agencies that provide comprehensive child- and family-development services for pregnant women and for children up to age 5 who are not yet eligible for kindergarten.

Riverway grew out of the ideals of the state’s major preschool initiative, Community Partnerships for Children. CPC promotes flexibility in providing services for preschool-age children through public schools, Head Start programs, community-based child-care centers, and family child-care homes.

The program, which is financed through the state education department, is part of Massachusetts’ broader school improvement efforts. Some 332 out of the state’s 351 cities and towns are involved in the CPC program.

Each local program has a lead fiscal agent--a school district, a Head Start agency, or a licensed child-care provider--that is responsible for financial reporting and program monitoring. Local councils, made up of representatives from Head Start, the public school system, faith-based organizations, and other groups, make policy and design programs that govern the partnerships in participating communities. To ensure high quality in the’ collaborations, the state requires all participating prekindergarten programs to seek accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, based in Washington. All family-care providers have or must seek a Child Development Associate credential. Preschool programs offered through the public schools must meet state education department standards.

Draft guidelines for preschool curricula, based on the state’s K-12 curriculum frameworks, have been approved by the state board of education. Teachers will be required to document that they are using the guidelines in planning and evaluating curriculum activities.

A few years ago, local council members in Lawrence wanted to increase the number of preschool slots. The city had a waiting list of more than 300 children. Council members, who individually ran early-childhood centers, did not have the space to open new classrooms.

The Lower Merrimack Valley Regional Employment Board stepped up to help by donating a 15,000-square-foot space that had been vacant for more than 12 years. With money provided by the CPC program, the council voted to team up with such agencies as the YMCA, an Early Head Start program, and the Lawrence public schools to use the space to open a new early-childhood center in 1999.

With a budget of $4.9 million, the center offers, among other programs, services to more than 500 children and professional development to 67 early-childhood workers through an associate’s degree program.

“The center has been a tremendous success, and it was only through this collaborative program that it could have been born,” says Julie Tetreault, the program director of the Greater Lawrence Community Partnerships for Children Program.

“The advocacy community is really growing there,” says Adele Robinson, the public policy director for the NAEYC. “It’s one of the states that has connected both access and quality.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2002 edition of Education Week