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State Early Education Office in Final Discussions for New Executive Director

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If you are a parent of an infant or toddler, you may have heard of the Executive Office of Early Learning when it comes to the state’s public preschool program.

The office is not only in charge of this program, but it also oversees the development of a statewide early education system in collaboration with state and private partners.

"We have 37 EOEL public pre-K classrooms located on 34 campuses across the state, and we give priority to children and families who are underserved or who many not often have access to high-quality programs," said Jordana Ferreira, government affairs specialist for the EOEL.

"Recently, the public pre-K program was recognized as one of only five state-funded public preschool programs in the nation to achieve a 10 out of 10 quality standards benchmark."

Ferreira said the office aims to do more than just provide free high-quality pre-K programs, but aims to also engage and support families of young children throughout the state.

Research has shown that early education has resounding and lasting effects on not only students, but families.

"These high-quality early learning programs also helped build the foundation for stronger family lives that result in larger gains for their children," Ferreira said. "So these programs have been found to have substantial second-generation effects on education, in crime, reducing school suspensions and better health."

Earlier this year, executive director Lauren Moriguchi decided not to renew her contract, leading to a months-long search by the office’s governing board – which now has it narrowed down to three candidates.

Early Learning Board Chair Bob Peters said the new director not only needs to have administrative and government experience, but also can collaborate with different partners.

"We would hope to see someone in this role who’s a visionary leader, who can build system capacity and integrate what functions more as a siloed delivery of services currently," he said. "Also, it’s really important to have somebody who can view the issues related to early learning through an equity lens, since equity is a primary issue of what we’re trying to achieve."

Peters said former executive director Moriguchi helped lay the foundation for the office to build upon. But her successor will have to deal with old and new challenges – such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing shortage of early educators.

The board will meet Tuesday to consider three candidates: Nicol Russell, a former deputy associate superintendent for Arizona’s department of education; Kathleen O’Dell, a state department of education complex academic officer; and Jeannine Souki, a former executive director of the Hawaii Public Charter School network.

Peters said he hopes the board will announce the new director by early September.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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