Recognizing 16 Years of Service

Recognizing 16 Years of Service

On behalf of the Board of Directors at Children’s Institute, I wish to share the news that after 16 years, Swati Adarkar, Co-Founder, President and CEO will step down from her role at the end of this year. Swati has been a visionary and innovative leader who built a top-notch nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of children and families in Oregon. We are deeply grateful for her leadership over the years and we have much to celebrate and build on in terms of her accomplishments.

Under her tenure, we have seen public investments in Oregon’s early childhood programs and services grow significantly. Those include substantial investments in Oregon Pre-kindergarten, the creation of Preschool Promise and the Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund, and passage of the Student Success Act in 2019 which allocates $200 million annually to birth to five programs.

Perhaps most importantly, Swati led the effort to launch Early Works, a 10-year initiative that began in 2010 at Earl Boyles Elementary School in Multnomah County and then at Yoncalla Elementary School in Douglas County. Early Works was recognized as a national model by the U.S. Department of Education in 2016. Early Works has helped many of us see what’s possible when early childhood programs, services, and family engagement are an integral part of a child’s educational experience. What we’ve learned through Early Works has helped us shape state early childhood policy and expand our impact with innovative programs like Early School Success — a recent Children’s Institute initiative that engages educators and families to improve early learning. Children’s Institute’s newest initiative focuses on health equity and ensuring young children insured by Medicaid receive critical early health and developmental services before kindergarten.

As we look to 2021, Swati has graciously offered to support the organization’s transition and serve as a resource for the organization. In the short term, we have named Karen Twain as the Interim Executive Director. Karen has most recently served as CI’s Director of Programs and brings a great deal of experience as an education leader having held significant leadership roles in the Tigard-Tualatin School District for 33 years.

The Children’s Institute Board of Directors is in the process of initiating a national search for the next leader of the organization. During this time of transition, we count on your continued support and we hope you can join us in wishing Swati success in her work ahead and thanking her for her significant contributions to Oregon’s young children and families.

John Tapogna
Board Chair
Children’s Institute

How Did Oregon’s Children Fare in this Election?

How Did Oregon’s Children Fare in this Election?

While national politics and the presidential election have consumed the lion’s share of voter attention these last few days, Oregon’s well established vote-by-mail process offers more concrete outcomes for local races and ballot measures. Here’s a round up of results from those we’ve been watching closely: 


In Multnomah County, a Win for Preschool


Measure 26-214, better known as the Preschool for All ballot measure in Multnomah County has passed, with 64.2 percent of voters approving, and 35.8 percent of voters against. Children’s Institute endorsed the measure and served on the task force created to develop it. Revenue will be raised through an income tax on high earners with a plan to provide tuition-free preschool for all 3- and 4-year old children in the county by 2030. 

The measure is unique in that it prioritizes access for children in BIPOC communities and includes important provisions to support racial equity in early learning. The measure prohibits programs from suspension or expulsion of children, offers anti-bias training and professional development for providers, and increases mental and behavioral health support for providers and families. It also raises the wages of early educators to achieve parity with Kindergarten teachers and guarantees a wage of $18 an hour for classroom assistants. 

preschool for all

Listen to CI’s podcast with Jessica Vega Pederson on Preschool for All

Tobacco Tax Passes Handily


Children’s Institute also endorsed Oregon Ballot Measure 108, which significantly increases taxes on tobacco and e-cigarette products. Revenue from the tax goes to medical and healthcare-assistance programs, including mental health services, tribal health programming and other tobacco and nicotine harm reduction efforts. The measure was strongly supported by voters, with 66.7 percent in favor and 33.3 percent against.


Clackamas Children’s Safety Levy Defeated


An effort to improve services for neglected and abused children in Clackamas County has failed, with 45.6 percent of voters in favor and 54.4 percent voting against Measure 3-564. The measure sought to raise $7.9 million dollars per year, or $40 million over five years, through a property tax of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.  


Across the State, Strong Support for Schools 


Oregon voters also demonstrated strong support for local school bonds and local option levies. An incredible 14 of 17 such efforts to raise funds this year have passed, from tiny Perrydale School District near Amity, Oregon with a successful bid to raise $3 million for its 330 students, to a whopping $1.2 billion bond measure for Portland Public Schools that passed with 75 percent of voter approval.


National Wins May Bode Well for Child Care


Oregon’s congressional delegation stays mostly intact with the exception of District 2, where Cliff Bentz replaces longtime Rep. Greg Walden who did not run for re-election. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Pete Defazio and Kurt Schrader keep their seats. 

A number of Oregon’s elected representatives have introduced or backed pro-child and family legislation in recent years, most notably, Rep. Bonamici who has been particularly active on child care issues. That’s hopeful news for children’s advocates who want to see progress on federal legislation like the $50 billion Child Care is Essential Act and the Heroes act, a multi-trillion COVID-19 relief bill. 

Children’s Institute Annual Fundraiser Breaks Records to Impact Oregon’s Future

Children’s Institute Annual Fundraiser Breaks Records to Impact Oregon’s Future

“Impact Oregon’s Future,” our annual fundraiser held on October 20, had a great turnout and raised more than $265,000 for Children’s Institute. This event, emceed by CI’s Senior Early Education Advisor Soobin Oh, highlighted our work across Oregon to increase access to and strengthen critical early childhood programs and services, including preschool,  home visiting, child care, and many others.

“We are so grateful for these contributions from our supporters,” said Swati Adarkar, CI’s President and CEO. “Every dollar helps us continue the work we’ve been doing for more than sixteen years, connecting young children across Oregon to vital programs and services that support their healthy development and early school success.”

Children’s Institute honored one of Oregon’s dedicated business and community leaders and long-time CI board member, Ken Thrasher, with the Alexander Award at the event. This award, named for Richard C. “Dick” Alexander, recognizes those who are committed to improving the lives of Oregon children with a focus on early childhood, and honors Dick Alexander’s advocacy for children as one of Oregon’s foremost business and civic leaders.

“Ken truly embodies the spirit of the Alexander Award,” Adarkar said. “His commitment to children and families has been exemplary and he has had an extraordinary imprint on advancing Oregon’s early childhood agenda. Ken’s deep, long-standing passion is to make a big difference for children and families in Oregon, and he has. I was thrilled to celebrate him.”

Others who added their gratitude and thanks for Ken’s service and commitment to Oregon’s children during the event included Governor Kate Brown; Martha Richards, Executive Director of the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation; philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer; and Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting.

Notable projects highlighted during the event included CI’s Early Works Initiative, with sites in Yoncalla and SE Portland. Early Works schools, located in districts where children face multiple barriers that have historically resulted in achievement and opportunity gaps, connect with families before children reach kindergarten. Programs include playgroups for parents with infants and toddlers, parent education and adult learning opportunities, public preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, housing advocates, and a community health worker that can connect children and families to much needed health and community services.

CI’s Early School Success program, also highlighted in the event, launched in 2019 and expands upon what we’ve learned through Early Works. Early School Success partners with school districts to connect the early years and early grades. The Children’s Institute team provides consultation, professional development, and coaching to support the use of developmentally appropriate teaching strategies for preschool through fifth grade.

What CI learns from its program work informs advocacy efforts at the state level for public policy that supports high-quality care and education for children from the earliest ages. Important recent policy wins celebrated during the Impact Oregon’s Future event include the passage of the 2019 Student Success Act, an historic investment in Oregon’s children, providing $200 million each year to programs specifically serving the state’s youngest learners.

“It’s really incredible to witness the growth of the movement to support Oregon’s children. Strategic investment in our youngest Oregonians is a sure way to impact our state now and into the future. We’re pleased and grateful that so many people, parents, leaders, and community partners see the value of the work we do and have donated critical resources to fuel our work forward,” said Adarkar.

Sponsors for the event included presenting sponsors Cindy and Duncan Campbell as well as corporate sponsors The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Stoel Rives LLP, Columbia Bank, Portland State University, NWEA, Education Northwest, NW Natural, Cambia Health Solutions, Pacific West Bank, Pacific Power, and Vernier Software & Technology.

Parents Wrestle with School and Care Choices in Pandemic

Parents Wrestle with School and Care Choices in Pandemic

Melissa Tyler of Ontario, Ore., worries about sending her 5-year-old son into school this fall during a pandemic. But she’s even more concerned about Mason, who has Down’s syndrome, slipping behind.

“I think socially he could be losing ground; that is my biggest concern,” says Tyler, a bank teller in the town on Oregon’s eastern border. “He thrives in a classroom. He needs that social interaction. He hasn’t gotten it since March.”

Candice and Adolfo Jimenez have enrolled their daughter, Xitlalli (pronounced seet-lolli), 4, and son, Necalli, 10, in a Spanish immersion program at the private International School in Portland. They know their kids will get a pared-down version of their education through distance learning, but they prefer that over exposing their children to COVID-19.

“We feel most comfortable with being virtual because it provides safety in a time of uncertainty,” says Candice Jimenez, research manager for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

Parents of Oregon’s youngest students express varying views on how best to resume education this fall. They all must weigh the risk of infection against the risk of their children losing ground at a critical time in their early education.

“Some folks want to go back into the brick-and-mortar no matter what,” says Don Grotting, superintendent of Beaverton School District. “Others say, ‘Until there is a vaccine, we are not sending our kids to school.’”

And parents who work outside their homes must find a place for their kids at a time when child care has become even scarcer than it was before the pandemic.

“Even if I can afford child care,” says Grotting, “where are those places going to be?”

Learning at a distance

Beaverton, like Portland, North Clackamas, Tigard-Tualatin, Salem-Keizer and other large districts, will open virtually at least through mid-November. Gov. Kate Brown has declared schools cannot open classrooms to students until statewide and county COVID-19 metrics meet certain criteria for three weeks in a row. With the positive virus rate still above 5 percent in mid-August, all public schools will open with only distance learning.

There could be exceptions. “Subsets of schools” in smaller communities, state guidelines say, will be allowed to return to in-person instruction based on the local level of virus spread, prior to county and state metrics being met. This guidance also makes allowances for limited in-person instruction for groups of students K-3 students, English learners, and students experiencing disability. These allowances, however, are not mandates. Schools and districts are expected to offer in-person provisions for priority populations “to the extent possible,” as determined at the local level.

State and district leaders are doing research and working to build educators collective capacity around what works best in providing distance education to young students, says Jennifer Patterson, the state’s assistant superintendent for the Office of Teaching, Learning and Assessment. They want to balance virtual teaching with applied learning, where children engage in off-screen projects and activities with learning objectives, she says.

The state also is encouraging teachers to help households exploit their assets, says Patterson. If they have extended families living nearby, for example, they could tap siblings, grandparents and other relatives to help teach young children with the help of online teachers. They could use games, play, songs and projects to help young children build skills in literacy, numeracy and vocabulary, Patterson says.

The Jimenezes say they are fortunate to both be working at home so they can trade off helping their children with online education. They worry more about their children’s social and emotional development and its relation to their academic growth, Candice says.

“You want to keep having that social system for them so they are getting to know other kids,” she says. “I worry about their social and cognitive development in relation to other kids in the community.”

Other parents worry their young children will lose academic ground at a time when the quality of their education can dramatically affect the trajectory of their lives.

Dove Spector, Clackamas, a colleague of Candice Jimenez and project specialist for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, and her husband, Kyle Dexter, a screen printer, have enrolled their 4-year-old son in the Portland Parks Preschool. They worry their child is going to miss critical socialization because the school is opening remotely.

“I worry about giving him the proper tools to be successful academically,” says Spector, a Nez Perce tribal member. “It really stems from my own experience with racism in the education system.”

Learning in the classroom

Whenever schools do physically open their buildings to children, most parents clearly want them to do so with an abundance of caution. The Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division surveyed 3,060 parents in need of child care, including preschool. The parents collectively had 1,139 children two or under, 1,955 children ages 3 to 5 and 890 kids ages 6 or older.

About one in five parents were uncomfortable with their children receiving meals prepared by staff, more than half were uneasy with their children going to public parks or using public play equipment and two thirds were nervous about their children going on field trips.

In the small district of Yoncalla 45 miles south of Eugene, nearly nine in 10 parents want to see their children back in school this fall, says Superintendent Brian Berry. Parents are heavily involved in plans for health and safety measures that meet state guidelines.

“I feel like we can do this and still have our kids in school,” says Mary King of Yoncalla. Her 4-year-old daughter, Rosemary, will be in the district’s preschool, created in partnership with the Children’ Institute’s Early Works program. “I have faith in my school district and in the preschool that the cleaning precautions will be increased.”

The parents felt strongly that schools and child care providers:
  • Require staff and children with COVID-19-like symptoms to stay home.
  • Follow all Oregon Health Authority sanitation and clearing guidelines.
  • Have a plan in place to communicate with families about COVID-19 issues such as infections, policy changes and contact tracing.
  • Have flexible staff sick-leave policies for cases of sickness or virus exposure.
  • Require children and staff to wash their hands for 20 seconds frequently throughout the day.
  • Check all children and adults entering the building for fever and virus symptoms.

Scarce child care

Some parents, including a disproportionate share with low-income jobs, must work outside the home and find care for their young children while they do so. Yet they often cannot afford child care, which averaged about $1,200 a month before the pandemic. What’s more, the state’s licensed child care capacity has been cut by more than half, from 106,000 slots a year ago to 48,000 today. The state’s child care guidelines allow only emergency child care providers who give priority to children of first responders, health care workers and other essential personnel to operate. The state has, since May, awarded $22 million in federal coronavirus relief to about 2,800 child care facilities. That’s far fewer than the 3,787 providers operating in January, and, under state health guidelines, most centers still functioning must do so with fewer children than before the pandemic.

While K-12 public schools, along with government-funded preschool programs like Oregon Pre-K and Preschool Promise, have responded to health and safety guidelines by closing for in-person learning, they continue to receive funding and will remain intact through the crisis, retaining their workforce and continuing to provide virtual learning opportunities to students. The vast majority of child care programs are not in the same boat. Because 70 percent of child care and preschool funding comes from parent tuition, which is only paid when a child is able to attend, providers who have had to close or who are operating at a decreased capacity, without comparably decreased overhead, face enormous financial hardship and may be forced to close permanently, with impacts to the availability of child care lasting long into the future.

Tyler of Ontario, a single mother, has been able to rely on her nearby parents to watch Mason while she works at a bank. She doesn’t know what she would do without their help, she says, as she cannot afford child care. Plus she would have a hard time finding it. With less than one child care slot for every three children, her Malheur County already qualified as a child care desert before the pandemic hit. Now there are even fewer seats. By late summer, the 9,930-square-mile county had only 10 vacant school-age child care slots.

As of mid-August, the statewide capacity for child care for all ages stood at 47,622 children with 12,495 vacancies. Even at capacity, the state has enough child care slots for only 10 percent of its 467,000 children ages 9 and under.

With child care so scarce and expensive, parents like Tyler are turning to relatives or friends to watch their children. Others are quitting their jobs or hiring nannies. And some parents are grouping in bubbles so they can take turns babysitting or share costs for tutors.

Some local governments are looking for ways to provide more child care services, but as with so much in this pandemic, the majority of Oregon parents will be on their own.

Of course, what all parents want is a return to normal school, says Kayla Bell, Beaverton School District’s administrator for elementary curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

“We understand that,” she says.

Spector, of Clackamas, says she’s grateful she can work at home and help her son with his distance learning, but she worries about his future.

“It just feels like [the pandemic] is never going to end because of a lack of federal leadership,” she says. “I’m happy to do my part, but I’m frustrated. It’s hard not to feel that this is going to have a strong impact on my son as he grows into adulthood.”

Honoring Dr. Ruby Takanishi

Honoring Dr. Ruby Takanishi

“Recreating primary education is the civil rights issue of our times.”

- Dr. Ruby Takanishi

On Saturday evening we lost a giant in the field of education and child development. Dr. Ruby Takanishi was an amazing woman and thought leader who devoted her life to making a difference in the lives of children over many decades of unwavering commitment and passion to create equitable educational opportunity.

She was the longtime president of the Foundation for Child Development and made numerous contributions in that role including developing the PreK-3rd movement, and a fierce commitment to the needs of immigrant children and dual language learners. She was always ahead of public opinion.

Many of us at Children’s Institute are indebted to her guidance and support over the years. More than a decade ago, she helped shape the direction of Early Works and more recently served as senior advisor to the development and launch of Early School Success. She was our mentor, and pushed us to explore new information and ideas, read the latest research, ask probing and insightful questions, listen to more voices, and dig deep on the issues impacting young children and their families.

Dr. Takanishi’s generosity and impact has left us with the enormous responsibility of living up to her expectations of creating a society that truly supports all children and families, guided by research best practices and informed policy.

We have had the honor of many constructive and thoughtful conversations with Dr. Takanishi over the years, and we are fortunate to have two of them recorded for The Early Link Podcast.

In one segment, she discusses her book, First Things First: Creating the New American Primary School. In addition to sharing insights about reimagining public education, Dr. Takanishi discusses inequalities in education based on a variety of interconnected factors: varied state investments and strategies, declining federal investments in children and families, and the changing roles of parents, families, and communities in the public school system. She also provides advice for Oregon in building a stronger early learning system, and much more. Listen or read the transcript here.

In a discussion focused on English language learners, Dr. Takanishi joined two Oregon educators to discuss the needs of English learners and dual language learners in our schools, communities, and early learning systems. We learned about recommendations to promote the educational success of young English learners based on her experience as the chair for the Committee on Fostering School Success for English Learners and her role in developing its final report. We also explored the work in two Oregon districts leading the way on language development for their students. Listen or read the transcript here.

As we reflect on her significant contributions, we should remember her guiding advice at this time of unparalleled disruption across our schools and educational institutions:

“The schools we have today are a product of the last century. It is time to put our own generation to the test by designing a system that will help all of our youngest learners realize their educational potential. Talent is universally distributed. Opportunity to develop that talent, sadly, is not.”

Ruby has had a lasting imprint on the values and work of the Children’s Institute, and we are forever grateful.

You can make an impact!

We know you care about young children and their families in Oregon. Turn your caring into action. Your tax deductible contribution allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Your generous donation makes a difference!

Podcast: BLM Organizer La Mikia Castillo on Systemic Change and Dismantling Racism

Podcast: BLM Organizer La Mikia Castillo on Systemic Change and Dismantling Racism

In this week’s episode, host Rafael Otto talks with La Mikia Castillo, a Black Lives Matter activist and community organizer, about what it looks like to dismantle systemic racism.  


La Mikia Castillo is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and an organizer with Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles.


Castillo clarifies the message around defunding the police and shares how we can start to reimagine a new idea of safety. She also explains the ways in which systemic racism has impacted the health and education of Black children and children of color and what it will take to see real change in these institutions. Finally, Castillo shares her idea of what a world free of racism would look like for her and her son.


Please visit our Racial Equity Resources for Early Childhood page for more information on racial justice and equity issues that connect to early childhood. It is not comprehensive, but will be updated regularly.

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