Building an Infrastructure for Early Learning & Care with Alyssa Chatterjee


by Rafael Otto




In this episode, we hear from Alyssa Chatterjee, director of the Early Learning Division at the Oregon Department of Education, who will oversee the transition as the division becomes the Department of Early Learning and Care. Alyssa was among the first employees at the Early Learning Division, when it was formally created. She has served under Governor Kate Brown as deputy education policy advisor and has focused on early learning policy for the state since 2012.


In this segment, we learn more about Chatterjee’s background, her career path and its importance to her. We also dig into the Department of Early Learning and Care and how its creation will affect children and families in Oregon. Chatterjee also talks about how her work on the Children’s Cabinet and Racial Justice Council will show up in her new role, and what racial justice and equity means in the early childhood sector. She also gets into some of the challenges she’s faced in this job, lessons learned along the way, and what she thinks the early learning system will look like down the road.


[00:00:00] Rafael Otto: Hi everyone. This is the Early Link Podcast. I’m Rafael Otto. Thanks for listening as always, you can catch us on 99.1 FM in the Portland metro every single week on Sundays at 4:30 PM or tune in at your convenience, wherever you find your podcasts, including iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

There’ve been lots of great developments in Oregon in the early childhood sector recently and today I’m talking with Alyssa Chattergee. She is the fifth Early Learning System Director and will oversee the transition as the division becomes. The Department of Early Learning and Care.

Alyssa was among the first employees at the Early Learning Division, when it was formally created and she has served under Governor Kate Brown as deputy education policy advisor and she has focused on early learning policy for the state since 2012.

Alyssa, welcome to the podcast.

[00:00:55] Alyssa Chatterjee: Thank you for having me.

[00:00:56] Rafael Otto: Yeah, it’s great to have you here. Give me a little bit of background about the how and why you came into… into this work. What led you here?

[00:01:04] Alyssa Chatterjee: Yeah. So I went to Willamette University as a politics major assuming that I would be an elementary school teacher. Did some work in the classroom, I had a lot of experience working in preschools and schools with children experiencing disabilities. And as I did some work in Salem, was getting a little disillusioned by just the stress that teachers were under. The pressure for testing, seeing, watching them make those choices to have to kind of leave kids behind. And what really sealed it for me, there was student I was helping and he had pretty severe ADHD and we sat down and he wrote a paragraph and that was a big deal. 

And I was like, “Go show your teacher,” and he ran up and he was so excited.

And the first thing she said was, “You’re not allowed to write in pen.” And I was just like, I don’t think I can do this job. 

And luckily, being a politics major, I happened to also be in an education policy class and realized there was another way to be a part of the education system without being in the classroom. And so I was very fortunate that I had a friend from college who was working in Governor Kitzhaber’s office at the time and said, ” There’s this new office called the Early Learning Council and they need an assistant to the director.” And so I started as a temp to the first director, Jada Rupley, back in September of 2012. And I stuck around,

So was very lucky that, I started three weeks after Jada. We were in all these meetings together trying to convince people, legislators, partners, that what happens before kindergarten matters. So I really got to come in on the ground floor, as you were creating the Early Learning Hubs, as we were becoming the Early Learning Division, and grow with the agency.

And I’ve benefited tremendously from that. And from just having different leaders help me grow and continue to lift me up, and give me those opportunities to learn, and then left to the governor’s office in 2019, and then came back to their learning division in ’21. So it’s been a journey.

[00:03:06] Rafael Otto: You know, there are a lot of people, I think that ended up working on the policy side of things who have had experience like you have had. You were in the classroom, you worked with young children. Are there any other stories about working with young kids that come to mind that help keep you motivated to do this work?

Please download the full transcript below.


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