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Early School Success Winter Cross-Network Meeting 2024

Early School Success Winter Cross-Network Meeting 2024

On February 8, 2024 school teams from four Early School Success (ESS) districts convened for a collaborative winter cross-network meeting. This marked the first time the meeting was held virtually. The gathering provided an opportunity for intentional pause and thoughtful reflection on the equity gaps within school systems, the impact of the school district’s change ideas, and support for students.

Partner districts in attendance included Beaverton, Forest Grove, Lincoln County, and St. Helens school districts. Teams comprised of preschool through second-grade educators, instructional coaches, elementary principals, and district early learning leaders.

Talisa Timms, a continuous improvement specialist at Children’s Institute, said that the winter-cross network meeting was a testament to CI’s commitment to innovation.

“We introduced a new tool to capture the reflective equity work our Early School Success partner schools are doing to understand their systems through data, deeply,” Timms said.



Teams collaborated with other districts on activities, focusing on understanding the impact of identity in their work, reflecting on continuous improvement, addressing equity gaps, and measuring progress for accountability and improvement in school systems.

“My experience with equity work is the more you know your local context and are intentional about reflecting with your practice, you create pathways for more opportunities, more collaboration, and creative ways to address the needs showing up in the classroom,” said Julio Bautista, continuous improvement specialist at Children’s Institute.

“It was evident our educators were thinking critically of their systems and brainstorming ways to improve the experience for students,” he said.



Discussions during breakout room sessions revolved around the experiences of students and families and identified areas for improvement and success. Participants valued the opportunity to connect with and learn from each other.

They also appreciated the framework to support their conversations and hear how other schools are approaching the equity gaps in their systems. One participant shared, “If we could mobilize and harness our strength, we could be pretty powerful in each of our districts and our state.”

The school-based team at Children’s Institute looks forward to supporting educators and finding interactive and meaningful ways to engage them in the work.

“I learned so much from our partners, as I always do,” said Timms. “I found joy in our process and inspiration in conversations about what’s happening in real-time in our Early School Success schools. Shoutout to our partners for their willingness to lean in and embrace all that comes with change work!”



Interested in bringing Early Learning Academy to your district? Contact Director of School-Based Initiatives – Erin Lolich at


From Vision to Impact: Early School Success in Action

From Vision to Impact: Early School Success in Action

As we step into a new year, we are reflecting on the journey of Early School Success (ESS)—a journey that has been shaped by collaboration and a shared commitment to create aligned early learning experiences for children in preschool through fifth grade. ESS represents an ongoing, collective effort to cultivate growth, resilience, and academic achievement for young learners. Rooted in evidence-based strategies, ESS strives to bridge the gap between research and practice, and seeks to build educational systems that actively support a range of educational needs.

We have come a long way since the inception of ESS and appreciate the path that we have travelled to get to where we are now. We look forward to the next phase of this work, which will focus on reaching more students through deep partnerships with school districts and educators.


The Early School Success Approach

The School-Based Initiatives (SBI) team at Children’s Institute partners with school districts across Oregon. One of the key bodies of work within SBI is Early School Success (ESS), which supports educators and school leaders to align family engagement, developmentally appropriate teaching and learning, and other school supports for children. This ensures continuity from preschool through the elementary grades and sets a foundation for lifelong learning. Current ESS partners include Beaverton, Forest Grove, Lincoln County, and St. Helens school districts.

Additionally, ESS  reaches more educators and students through our Early Learning Academy (ELA), which is open to all school districts and education service districts (ESDs) in Oregon. ELA is a virtual cohort-based learning experience that guides district teams through a year-long professional learning series. In our 2023-24 ELA cohort, nine school districts and ESDs across Oregon are engaged in alignment and building systems to strengthen early learning.



At their core, ESS and ELA create a holistic vision and nurture learning environments beyond traditional educational models, tailored to each child’s unique needs. Our approaches are community-driven and draw upon the strengths of improvement science and human-centered design. This work aims to address the root causes of educational inequity and dismantle systemic barriers to school success.


Charting the course forward

After five years of meaningful engagement with school district partners, ESS is transitioning into a strategic five-year expansion. The next phase will focus on continued support for rural school districts and ELA expansion.

After the first four years of partnership, Beaverton and Forest Grove school districts are set to become learning labs, spreading ESS and improvement processes across their elementary schools. As we continue this work well into the future, we plan to increase the number of schools benefiting from ESS, ensuring innovative models, support, and resources reach more districts, schools, and educators. We will also be able to provide more resources and reach more districts, schools, and educators. 

Our partnerships make ESS successful

Now, more than ever, the success of Early School Success is deeply intertwined with the dedicated support of educators and school districts. Over the last five years, CI’s engagement with two unique cohorts of educators has provided direct coaching to 114 educators and impacted over 3,000 students.

“I have worked with Children’s Institute for the last three years and as an educator, I have learned so much from them,” said Dani Boylan, director of early learning at Helens School District.

These powerful partnerships highlight tangible outcomes in the classroom. For example, children who attended Toledo preschool learned the flow of their school day by managing an interactive visual schedule; and in Toledo kindergarten classrooms children use the same process, making the transition from one learning environment to another consistent.

CI also partners with four different culturally specific organizations for the Early Learning Academy—CAIRO, Y.O.U.T.H, S.P.I.R.I.T.S, and Adelante Mujeres—which further strengthens professional learning for educators to find solutions that work best for the communities they work with.

Boylan explained that the partnership has made the St. Helens School District stronger with administrators, teachers, and families better understanding the importance of early learning and all that it entails.

“This partnership has made my district stronger as a team. Administrators, teachers and families are seeing the importance of early learning and all that goes with it,” she said.

“Together, we’re helping children be more successful by working with teachers to make the transition more effortless for preschool to third grade.”


Interested in bringing ELA to your district? Contact Erin Lolich at

Early Childhood Champion Ron Herndon Honored with the 2023 Alexander Award

Early Childhood Champion Ron Herndon Honored with the 2023 Alexander Award

In the heart of Portland, there is an exceptional individual who has spent a lifetime dedicated to turning hopes and aspirations into concrete actions, and who exemplifies what it means to be a champion for children.

We had the honor of presenting Ron Herndon with the 2023 Alexander Award at Children’s Institute’s Champions for Children – 20 years of Impact event on October 19.

Ron transcends the role of a community leader; he is a living testament to the power of commitment, advocacy, and unwavering dedication to the well-being of our children and families here in Oregon, and across the nation. Ron’s focus on institutional and systemic change promises a brighter future for all children, where the playing field is truly equitable.

“Ron Herndon has led transformative change in Oregon for decades with vision, innovation, and a deep commitment to  ensure all children, birth to grade 5, and their families have what they need to thrive,” said  Kali Thorne Ladd, Children’s Institute’s chief executive officer. “We are all better because of him.

In 1975, Ron took the helm as the Director of Albina Head Start. It was there that he laid the foundation for a legacy that would expand far beyond the walls of early learning centers. From 1991 to 2013, his journey took a national stage as he assumed the roles of President and Board Chair of the National Head Start Association (NHSA). This position was a platform for transformative change and pivotal in elevating the quality of Head Start programs nationwide. As Chair, he provided unyielding leadership and support, including advocating for over 900,000 children and families. Ron’s dedication and leadership in this role transformed early childhood education across the nation, ensuring that children with the least access to early learning opportunities received a solid foundation for success.

Ron’s contributions have earned him high regard, deep respect, and fond admiration from a vast community of friends and admirers whom he continues to inspire.

Joe McFerrin, chief executive officer at Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), aptly notes, “Ronnie Herndon’s leadership and impact in the field of early childhood development are incredible, but his positive influence on professionals working with children of all ages is immeasurable.”

Ralph Smith, managing director at the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading vividly recalled Ron’s impact, describing him as a “one-of-kind visionary leader, courageous advocate, and tireless warrior for social justice and economic uplift.”

Beyond his leadership roles, Ron’s influence through mentorship has also created a ripple effect.

“Ronnie is a true visionary,” said Miriam Calderon, chief policy officer at ZERO TO THREE. “There are few leaders who have stood for centering racial and social justice in early childhood as he has. I feel blessed to have him as a mentor since early in my career and know that I am not alone, as he has so generously done that for many in this field, and that is part of his legacy and impact.”

It is not just about mentorship, but also about driving lasting change. Governor Tina Kotek underscored this point when she shared how Ron has left an indelible mark on generations of Oregonians.

“For more than 50 years, Ron Herndon has been a powerful voice for the Black community in Portland, especially for the needs of children in North and Northeast Portland,” she said. “As a community leader, he has supported essential services for generations of Oregonians – perhaps most importantly through the growth of Albina Head Start – guiding it from an organization that served more than 100 kids to well over 1,000.”

As we honor Ron Herndon with the 2023 Alexander Award, we celebrate not just a community leader, but a beacon of hope.

In the words of Tony Hopson, “Many people hope for change, some people talk about change, but few people make change. Ronnie represents the few.”

We express our heartfelt gratitude to Ron, his legacy and relentless dedication, and unwavering commitment to create a brighter future for all children.

More about the Alexander Award 

The Alexander Award is named for prominent Oregon leader Dick Alexander and was first awarded by Children’s Institute to Governor John Kitzhaber in 2013 for his work building Oregon’s early childhood system. Since then, the award has recognized individual leaders such as Ken Thrasher and Sue Miller and communities like Wallowa County for significant work to improve the lives of young children. Beyond honoring individual leaders and communities, the Alexander Award calls attention to the need for business and civic leaders to work together to build a system of programs and services to support children’s healthy development and school readiness in order to ensure Oregon’s future success. 

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