BATON ROUGE, La. — The Louisiana Department of Education today announced that Jenna Conway will leave her position as Assistant Superintendent for Early Childhood to lead early childhood improvement efforts for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Conway has led Louisiana’s effort to unify the state’s child care, Head Start and pre-kindergarten systems since the 2012 passage of Act 3.
Assistant Superintendent Jessica Baghian, who leads assessment, accountability and improvement for the Department, will now oversee improvement efforts in early childhood settings as well. This includes oversight of early childhood networks, local enrollment systems, and the CLASS quality rating system. The Office of Early Childhood Operations, led by Lisa Brochard, will maintain oversight of licensing early childhood centers and the Child Care Assistance Program, reporting to Chief Operating Officer Bridget Devlin.
“Under Assistant Superintendent Conway’s leadership, Louisiana created a first-of-its-kind unified early childhood system,” said State Superintendent John White. “While I am sad to see her return to her home state, the children of families of Virginia are lucky to have her back. And we are lucky to have two leaders within our organization fully prepared to lead improvement and operational efforts into the future. Early childhood care and education ranks among the most essential investments Louisiana can make.”
Conway began her role at the Department in 2012, inheriting a fragmented system of disconnected child care, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten centers. Today, as envisioned by Act 3:
- Early childhood programs are unified under a common quality rating system and common local enrollment processes;
- All lead teachers will be certified by 2019, with child care teachers required to have a new ancillary certificate that earns them higher tax credits;
- Early childhood programs are earning higher quality ratings because of improved curriculum and improved teaching;
- Child care financial stipends have increased, and demand for child care from Louisiana families is increasing; and
- All families have information about their options available on School Finder and can enroll in multiple programs through one application.
“Few could match the enthusiasm, brilliance and dedication that Ms. Conway has brought to this effort,” said Melanie Bronfin, Executive Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. “It has been an absolute honor working beside her, and our state has immensely benefited from her service. I wish her nothing but the best in her future pursuits. She will be greatly missed.”
Paula Polito, Chair of the state’s Early Childhood Care and Education Advisory Council and owner of Beary Cherry Tree in Metairie, agreed: “Having the honor to work with an innovative leader like Jenna Conway has been an invaluable experience. Her unwavering desire for the highest quality of care for every child in this state has been evident from the moment she took on the position as Assistant Superintendent. Our children of Louisiana are better off because of the dynamic leadership Jenna has provided and the incredible relationships she has fostered with so many individuals in the field.”
As Louisiana continues to increase access and improve quality, state and local leaders will work to develop long-term statewide strategic plan for early childhood and to strengthen local governance so communities can expand access, drive quality improvement and address other critical needs of their children birth to age five. Efforts to create a state-level commission are now underway in the Legislature. House Bill 676 is currently pending in conference committee and is expected to be voted on later this week.
“If passed, the state-level commission will develop a long term plan to ensure all Louisiana children have affordable access to high-quality early childhood to address their developmental and learning needs,” said Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, who authored House Bill 676. “Additional pilots will explore ways to establish governance, increase slots and improve care and instruction.”
“I feel honored to have partnered with thousands of leaders and teachers to unify and strengthen Louisiana’s early childhood system,” Conway said. “Prior to Act 3, early childhood was often considered babysitting; now our state celebrates child care, Head Start and school-based pre-kindergarten educators who help prepare all Louisiana children for kindergarten. Knowing that kindergarten readiness puts children on the path for success, I am excited that this work will continue to move forward in Louisiana as I embark on similar efforts in Virginia.”