RACE TO THE CAPITOL
The call came to West Central Initiative early in the work day on Dec. 17: Minnesota was one of nine states chosen for the Department of Education’s Race to the Top early childhood challenge grant.
We greeted the news with excitement. West Central Initiative is part of a group of Minnesota organizations that created the Start Early Funders Coalition for Children and Minnesota’s Future, which helped shepherd Minnesota’s Race to the Top grant proposal through the process.
At 11 a.m., I received another call inviting me to attend the 2 p.m. press conference at the state capitol. It usually takes three hours just to get to the outskirts of the Twin Cities from our offices in Fergus Falls, but that didn’t stop me. Within minutes, I was in my car and made it to the capitol with 10 minutes to spare. Once there, I was thrilled to be invited to stand at the podium along with other early childhood partners.
When Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton asked if anyone at the podium wished to speak, I couldn’t help myself. I took the opportunity to thank all of the Minnesota early childhood educators and care providers who have been working so hard for our youngest children and who will be instrumental in carrying out the grant.
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
Our part in the Race to the Top grant actually began a decade ago, when The McKnight Foundation worked with the Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs) — which includes West Central Initiative — to come up with ways to encourage communities in Greater Minnesota to become nurturing places for their youngest children and their families.
The MIFs knew that the best way to engage communities was to let them create their own process and bring together a team of stakeholders. The MIFs helped establish early childhood coalitions in 80 communities throughout Greater Minnesota. Each coalition has a coordinator who is given a yearly stipend through the MIFs. They also offer technical assistance, regional coordination, and some funding to the coalitions. Today there are about 90 early childhood communities. The work of these coalitions is exciting and extensive. You can see some of these projects on the MIFs’ Promising Strategies searchable database.
The lessons learned by the coalitions helped inform the writing of Minnesota’s Race to the Top grant proposal.
We were particularly pleased to hear that the White Earth Nation was chosen as one of four pilot communities for the grant. WCI helped establish and continues to work with the White Earth Early Childhood Initiative, which is one of our most active and creative ECI communities here in West Central Minnesota.
White Earth and the three other pilot communities will run a particularly important leg of Minnesota’s race to the top in early childhood education. Each community will be a test ground for programs and techniques that will hopefully benefit all Minnesota communities.
Nancy Jost is the early childhood coordinator for West Central Initiative, a regional community foundation that serves nine counties in West Central Minnesota, and is a member of the Council on Foundations.