Sixty percent of Franklin County’s children are unprepared for kindergarten. Jane Leach wants this to drop to zero by 2030.
When Jane Leach interviewed for the position of Executive Director at Future Ready Columbus, the longtime educator was asked about her goals for kindergarten teachers in central Ohio. Leach didn’t flinch.
“I said, ‘Well, 100 percent of the kids in our community will be ready to succeed in kindergarten,” Leach recalls. “They say,’ Well, OK, but you’re not going to get there, so what’s your ultimate goal ? ‘ I said, “The real goal is 100 percent of the kids.”
“If you put 10 kids in front of me and ask me which ones I’m going to stand up for, I’ll stand up for 10,” she says. “That’s 100 percent.”
That resolute determination has won Leach admirers since she launched Future Ready Columbus in 2018, a nonprofit public-private partnership that works with various community stakeholders, from schools to libraries, to promote kindergarten readiness for children in Franklin County aged 5 Years and younger to improve. According to Leach, only 40 percent of them are considered ready for kindergarten.
“We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first five years of life, and we know that what happens in those first five years affects a child’s life path,” says Leach. “We know that children, their families, and our community have a cost if a child doesn’t start kindergarten ready.”
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Brenda Rivers, President and CEO of the Child Development Council of Franklin County Inc., is one of the 34 members of Future Ready Columbus’ Early Childhood Advisory Council. She praises Leach’s seemingly single-minded dedication. “You have to have a passion for this job … for the children and for their families,” says Rivers. “She’s great too [at] Bring people together. “
Leach, who has spent much of her career in and around elementary school classes, views her role on Future Ready Columbus as a high point. After working 27 years as a teacher and administrator at Columbus City Schools as well as a lecturer, consultant and Hilliard school administrator, she founded the Hilltop Preschool Columbus in 2007.
“You take my passion for young children, my experience as a teacher, my experience as a school administrator, and my experience as a consultant and preschool founder and you’ve put it all together,” says the Northwest Columbus resident who has two children with husband Don and two grandchildren .
She cut out her work for you. Leach and her six-person staff must agree among multiple stakeholders to raise the region’s youngest children with an annual operating budget of $ 2.6 million (2019). To this end, the Future Ready Columbus Advisory Board consists of representatives from various partners, from Franklin County Public Health to the YMCA in central Ohio. At the beginning, Leach delivered a bold message to the group: “Forty percent of our children are ready to go to kindergarten, and you have made some change in this dynamic. Let’s work together to make a plan – a system. “
Advisory Council member Stephen D. Dackin praised Leach’s leadership of a fragmented ecosystem for early education. “What Jane is really trying to do is connect the dots and use the collective fortune of Franklin County on that one issue,” said Dackin, superintendent for school and community partnerships at Columbus State Community College.
The plan, called Future Ready by Five, includes contributions from many companies. “We know children need access to health care and behavioral medicine,” says Leach. “We know that committed families and communities are important. … We know that the quality of the caregiver or teacher influences a child. “
According to Leach, the goal is to get everyone on the same page: “We have to take this collective impact approach as there are many, many partners involved in creating this system of change.”
A draft of the plan, unanimously approved by the advisory board, will be “reviewed and improved,” says Leach, with input from parents, carers, child carers and preschool teachers. “We go to the church and say, ‘What do you think would help children in our church to achieve greater success on this path of kindergarten readiness? ‘”, She says. “As soon as we hear from these people, we’ll be bringing all of these voices into this next iteration of our Future Ready by Five.”
No schedule has been set for its implementation, but Leach firmly believes that once the plan is in place, it will have a measurable impact on kindergarten readiness. It contrasts the result of a systemic approach, such as that pursued by Future Ready Columbus, with a more checklist-based, programmatic approach. “When we look at the myriad of initiatives that have taken a programmatic approach, they haven’t seen the readiness growth that we highly expect with our holistic systems approach,” says Leach. “It’s the dealmaker.”
In the meantime, the organization is trying to move the ball forward bit by bit to meet Leach’s 100 percent readiness target by 2030. During the coronavirus pandemic, the group partnered with Bright by Text, which sends parenting tips and resources to parents and parents to other caregivers via cell phone. Leach himself signed up. “I’m a grandmother and signed up with the dates of birth of our grandchildren so that I can be informed,” she says.
This story is from the Winter 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.