San Francisco’s Mayor Lee has appointed Barbara Carlson to be the first permanent Director of the Office of Early Care and Education (OECE). Carlson was selected for her expertise and as someone who knows the early care and education (ECE) system. Carlson began her career as a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District and was the founding director of the San Francisco Starting Points Initiative in the Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth and Their Families in 1996, now known as DCYF. She has worked in a variety of other capacities in child services and advocacy in both California and on the East Coast.
Ms. Carlson stopped by the First 5 San Francisco offices last week to share some insight into the future of the OECE.
Q: What drew you to the Office of Early Care and Education?
Carlson: Well, I have always been interested in thinking strategically about the way early childhood systems work together. Actually, I think that first started when I was working with Laurel [Kloomok] at the High Risk Infant Interagency Council (HRIIC) in San Francisco. It was at that time that we started to think about the different funding streams being allocated to infants and toddlers with special needs. I was able to take that experience and apply it to the broader early childhood arena. Over time my knowledge of quality rating and improvement systems grew; as well as my knowledge of professional development systems and governance structures. Both of these content areas require a “systems” approach to governance and implementation, hence my interest.
Q: What do you see as the most important issues facing ECE in the near term, say the next six months?
Carlson: There is a push towards universal preschool from the state and federal governments. Our challenge here in SF is going to be making sure all kids 0-5 are getting the high-quality support they deserve while implementing these new programs. We have seen varying levels of success in states when it comes to making child care and pre-K work together. Sometimes, what happens is the push to pre-K leaves children who are not enrolled in the pre-K program with lower quality options or struggling to find programs. I think the trick is figuring out how to plan in a wise way, how to make these systems work together. San Francisco can be a model in many ways for the rest of the country because there is so much experience with Preschool for All in both SFUSD and community-based programs, with such positive outcomes.
What San Francisco allows us is a look at what has worked. But it will be equally interesting to see what might be improved and how resources might be allocated, if initiatives such as SB 837 Transitional Kindergarten and the President’s pre-K initiative come to fruition. We will need to look at what these new programs mean for our SF ECE system as a whole.
Q: Ten years from now, what does ECE look like in San Francisco?
Carlson: Every child in San Francisco has access to a very high-quality, outcome-focused ECE program regardless of income. I think San Francisco is probably already closer to that ideal than a lot of other places. But, from a very cursory look at where and how services are taking place there are still some kids that may not be getting what they need. Figuring out where the gaps are, and closing those gaps would be the goal. We have some work to do, but the work that has already been done citywide brings us close to where we want to be in ten years.
Q: Any additional things you would like the San Francisco early care and education community to know?
Carlson: I think San Francisco is an incredibly dynamic city and that the ECE community has always been at the cutting edge of what’s happening nationally. I know there are good people who have lots of energy and have done great work here. Sometimes perspectives are not exactly aligned, and I look forward to adding something to those conversations.
I have been away from the San Francisco early childhood community for 15 years, and I am amazed at the progress that has been made over that time. There are many more resources to providers and to families now, and the work that has been going on is incredible. I am happy to be back and a part of these efforts.