Excel by Eight hosted its semiannual Learning Community at the end of April, bringing together 50 people from its local communities to MISO in Little Rock to share network connections, celebrate accomplishments, and discuss resources that can move their local community development plans forward and help children thrive.

Day 1 Recap: Thursday, April 25

On the first day of the Learning Community, sessions explored two of Excel by Eight’s policy areas – high-quality child care and maternal health. Coalition director Alison Williams provided an update on E8’s Business Coalition and its charge to identify workable solutions that address the three critical elements of the child care crisis – accessibility, affordability, and quality. Participants were provided time to identify local businesses in their communities that could be a part of the coalition.

The conversation on maternal health focused on family-centered health care models that could be offered in E8 communities. Panelists included Dawne Sokora, program director of AR MOMS Women’s Clinic at CHI St. Vincent; Jackie Crain, director of population health and director of the Children’s Clinic at White River Health System; and Sarah Moore, assistant director of community programs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Anna Strong, executive director of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, moderated the discussion. Following the panel, participants interacted with leaders from the programs to learn how they could offer similar models in their communities. 

A Thursday afternoon panel titled “How States Innovate: Child Care Solutions across the U.S.” examined how E8 communities have sought out ideas and practices from other states that are useful and actionable. Jamie Rayford, chair of the Independence County steering committee and chief operating officer at the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, and Jennifer Glasgow, chair of the Little Rock steering committee and chief education officer at the City of Little Rock, offered fresh insights into how they are applying these learnings into the early care and education system in their own communities.

Dinner and entertainment – including bowling – was a fun way to network and unwind after the first day of the Learning Community,

Day 2 Recap: Friday, April 26

Friday began with a site visit to Washington Elementary to learn about a high-quality tutoring program for elementary students. Ignite! Reading has partnered with the Little Rock School District to provide one-to-one virtual tutoring that teaches students the foundational skills they need to become confident, independent readers. 

The Washington Elementary showcase began with a presentation from Asha Haki-Tyler, literacy specialist at Ignite! Reading, who addressed the data-driven aspects of the program, how the program segments learners based on their areas of improvement, and results from the pilot year. Excel by Eight participants were then able to see Ignite! Reading in action and interact with three teachers and two graduates from the program about their experiences. 

Friday began with a site visit to Washington Elementary to learn about Ignite! Reading, a high-quality tutoring program for elementary students.

We appreciate Asha of Ignite! Reading; Reggie Ballard, chief of staff at Little Rock School District; as well as assistant principal Michelle Moore, literacy instructional lead Sabreen Al-Uqdah, and the team at Washington Elementary for facilitating a fun and informative site visit during our Learning Community.  

The next session was an interactive discussion with members of the first cohort of local leads, an outcome of the early learning component of the Arkansas LEARNS Act. Following a competitive application process, the Arkansas Department of Education selected 12 pilot organizations to serve as local leads, including three Excel by Eight Communities: Independence County, Sevier County, and Little Rock.

Local leads are charged with establishing a comprehensive, locally supported plan for supporting early childhood programs and services within their communities. These organizations serve as the designated early childhood captain for the community and are responsible for bringing stakeholders and local partners together to address the needs of children, their families, and employers. 

Jennifer Douglas from the Office of Early Childhood; Jennifer Glasgow from the City of Little Rock; Esther Jones from the Little Rock School District; and Jamie Rayford from the Batesville Area Chamber shared their experiences as part of the cohort and discussed local plans, budgeting, and what the next cohort of local early childhood lead organizations can expect. 

The Learning Community ended with group planning time, giving steering community members from each community the opportunity to connect with one another and identify their strategic direction and next steps. View additional photos from the two-day event at this link.

Excel by Eight’s local communities will come together again in the fall. To learn more about E8’s work in building local models for change across the state, visit excelby8.net/e8-communities