Dr. Kimberly Krzanowski | Insisting on Success—No Matter What!

September 27, 2023

“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work,” wrote children’s author C.S. Lewis. And these words appear on a big sign that Kimberly has in her office at Delaware State University, where she heads its Early Childhood Innovation Center (ECIC), a program that began a bit more than a year ago. As the executive director of the ECIC, Kimberly provides the state’s early childhood professionals with technology, coaching, financial assistance to cover tuition and access to flexible coursework as they work toward the Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™, associate degree and bachelor’s degree. The holistic support her program provides empowers early childhood professionals and prepares them for career advancement and better paying jobs. Still, that’s not Kimberly’s major goal.

“Sometimes the general public and students at the ECIC have needed a reminder that it’s not about you or me,” she explains. “It’s about the children. We’re advancing our education, so we can give children what they need to advance in the brief span of time that they’re with us. Every year, you get a new set of children, and you have nine to eleven months to influence them before they move onto someone else. So, we all need to focus on the children and give them the great foundational skills they need to succeed in school, life and transitioning to the K-12 space. Our work always must be centered around the children.”

Quality early childhood education focuses on a whole child approach, and Kimberly also takes a whole teacher approach as she breaks down the roadblocks that stop early childhood professionals from pursuing their dream of higher education. “Once accepted into our program, people receive laptops and stipends to offset the cost of life expenses such as safe, reliable child care and transportation to cohort meetings,” she explains. “We’ve designed our programs to have an embedded coaching component that meets you where you are and helps you take the next step, whether that’s getting CDA® or working on your bachelor’s degree. We also offer completion bonuses to people when they finish the program to address some of the financial issues that our early childhood professionals face.”

Granted, all these ideas for supporting early childhood professionals have been floating around the state for a long time. But until the creation of the ECIC, they weren’t pieced together. “We’ve consolidated all these services under one roof,” Kimberly says, “and we’re working with education departments at institutions of higher education throughout the state to ensure that anyone now pursuing or thinking about a degree in early childhood knows about the programs we offer. Anyone who’s working in an early childhood program in Delaware can come to us, and we’ll give them career advice and guidance on the best first step for them. If that’s the CDA, we have a wide range of cohort models and partner with many colleges and universities statewide and in surrounding locales that offer specialized support like early childhood education programs in Spanish. We want to support our students in a variety of ways that focus on equity, cultural sensitivity and inclusion.”

While Kimberly has built a lot of leeway into the program, she does insist upon results to justify the investment Delaware has made in the ECIC. “We have a $31.6 million grant that supports our work,” she says, “and we’re using a lot of it to help people earn their CDA. Over the next three years, we have to show the positive impact of the grant, which demands that people complete the program. One of our taglines is ‘Insisting on success,’ so we make sure to stand by people from the time they start to the time they finish the program.”

Kimberly is convinced that the ECIC will produce concrete results. “We believe that helping people to earn their CDA is going to have a big impact on classroom practices, children and families,” she says. “We also believe that the educators will continue to grow after taking that first step by earning a CDA. Research in Delaware and nationwide shows that many people go on to earn their bachelor’s degree once they hold a CDA. So, we’re ready to change people’s lives by helping them earn the Council’s national credential.”

Kimberly’s own life changed when she discovered the early childhood field in college. “I originally intended to be an elementary school teacher, but I struggled to get through the required math classes for teachers,” she recalls. “So, my advisor had a real down-and-dirty talk with me and suggested I switch my major to early childhood education.” Doing so offered Kimberly the flexibility to work with young children in classroom settings, become a program administrator, design professional development opportunities for ECE professionals and work in higher education preparing and supporting the ECE workforce. That’s exactly what Kimberly did!

And along the way, Kimberly worked to be her best by earning a doctorate in educational leadership. “My research has focused on access to higher education and the perceptions of early childhood educators to further learning,” Kimberly says. “I put my findings into practice as I transitioned into the world of higher ed and began working in a teacher preparation program for early childhood educators,” she explains. And she has used her expertise to open many doors for educators statewide.

Before taking on her current role, she served for six years as the executive director of the Office of Early Learning at the Delaware Department of Education. While there, she provided leadership to a wide range of programs, such as the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), home visiting, Early Head Start, scholarship, compensation incentives and innovative funding strategies for the early childhood workforce. “We were designing and implementing various policies focused on recruiting and retaining the workforce with a goal of raising qualifications, expectations and compensation,” she says. And this experience serves her well as she now helps early childhood professionals meet Delaware’s new requirements for being in the classroom.

“Delaware is now going to make the CDA a major milestone and requirement for various teaching roles in classrooms,” Kimberly says. “Soon, the state qualifications will change and require CDA, associate and bachelor’s degrees for the early childhood workforce. Our program will guide early childhood professionals in making the climb up the career ladder,” and there’s more impetus now for them to rise. The new rules are changing the game in Delaware, as Kimberly explains. “We wanted to build a program like the ECIC for years when I was working for the state, but there wasn’t enough of an appetite for it. Now there is because our program aligns perfectly with the demand for more highly skilled professionals in ECE. We’re making sure people can get all the support they need to comply with the new state policies and regulations. So, the timing is perfect.”

The ECIC is setting the standard for knocking down roadblocks for all early childhood professionals, especially those who have faced inequities for too long. “So, we’ll have special Spanish-speaking cohorts,” Kimberly says. “We’re also supporting high school ECE career pathways, along with family members who have children attending an early childhood program and want to enter or advance in the early childhood field. So, through our cohort program, we’re going to be able to offer them an opportunity to get the credentials and skills that will let them do more to serve the communities where they live.”

Kimberly expects to serve a large number of nontraditional students through her program, and she’s seen how far these students can go. “Before working for the state,” she recalls, “I was the department chair for the early education department at Delaware Technical Community College and I had an idea for bringing college to working professionals in ECE. So, I found a partner and we went to a local child care program every week and taught two courses that counted for college credit. I had a very special cohort of ten ladies who had been working in the early childhood field for many years. One of them was in her sixties and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ But I told her that you’ve completed one class and you’ve passed it. Now you’re getting an A in your second class. You can succeed because you live and breathe this work every day. And by the time I moved onto another job, she had earned her CDA.”

She and other members of the cohort also succeeded in doing more than they ever expected, as Kimberly learned in subsequent years. “I stayed in touch with this cohort and found that most of them had earned an associate degree and moved on to their bachelor’s degree, though they were far beyond the traditional college age. And this goes to show that people can succeed if you give them the right support and help them have the right mindset,” Kimberly says. And the achievements of these seasoned teachers also shows that C. S. Lewis was right when he said, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

Kimberly’s own dream has always been to change the public perception of early childhood education. “When I was teaching in the early childhood classroom, I used to tell people I worked in brain research because early childhood professionals play a major role in building young brains,” Kimberly recalls. They seemed confused when she added that she was an early childhood professional, but people are now coming to understand the value of the work that our early childhood professionals do, as Kimberly’s glad to see. So, we need to focus more than ever on giving our early childhood professionals the education they need and insisting that they do succeed. Teaching young children, as Kimberly knows, is the most important work you can do.


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