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Leadership and Innovation Champion Award: Dawn Craft

The first inaugural Leadership and Innovation Champion Award was presented to Dawn Craft at AzAEYC’s Annual Meeting on September 29, 2018. Dawn was a key player in skillfully guiding AzAEYC through the recent NAEYC affiliate re-organization. She was instrumental in securing a Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust grant to support AZToolkit, AzAEYC’s shared resources web platform. Her record of service to the early childhood community in Arizona spans decades, including her current work at Arizona PBS, as past president of AzAEYC and as time spent as an NAEYC Affiliate Council representative.

We asked Dawn to answer five questions about her career, her work in the field, and to reflect on the need for bolstering the business management side of early ed programs. 

 Why did you enter the field?

While I was in college at Towson University in Maryland, working at the child study center, I grew to appreciate the COMPLEXITY of the children at play, their WONDER about the world and the CREATIVITY required by the teachers to design engaging learning experiences.

What is your current role in the field?

As an Early Childhood Specialist I research early education topics, attend early childhood conferences and provide support for Arizona PBS grants. I participate in many meetings with statewide collaborative Early Childhood systems partners and advocate for quality NAEYC’s national standards and Accreditation Programs.

What’s the biggest challenge you see in the field of early ed?

The expansion of the Early Childhood field beyond classroom teachers, with new positions such as technical advisors, coaches, home visitors, assessors and more. Also, the way early childhood has begun incorporating systems thinking, nonprofit best practices, assessments, research, quality Initiatives, and data systems to the field. It’s an exciting time to work in the profession and to imagine what advancements are in store for the future.

Talk about why it was important to you to lead the charge, along with colleague Sandy Foreman, in securing the funds to build AZToolkit.

After a careful search, we decided we wanted to partner with CCA for Social Good to provide this resource to ECE programs in our state. It had become apparent to me, and other ECE professionals both within Arizona and across the country that this tool could be of huge value. 

Many early care and education (ECE) services are delivered in very small programs, led by individuals trained in child development but not necessarily skilled in managing the business side of early care and education. The average ECE program serves fewer than 75 children and cannot generate enough revenue to support both expert program leadership and high quality education.

Limited resources can mean that quality suffers. In turn, revenues decline. Teachers don’t get the support they need to guide children’s behavior, effectively implement curricula, and offer child and family supports. As we built AZToolkit, we had all of this in mind. It was a labor of love, and I am gratified to see the platform’s continued reach to programs around the state.

Any inspiring words for those in our profession?

In Arizona, AzAEYC has been fortunate to have great thought leaders that have help implement many of the innovations we see today. Naomi Karp, Cheryl Foster, Nadine Mathis Basha, and NAEYC’s CEO Rhian Evans Allvin, to name a few! The challenge now is to maintain the momentum and expand support for ALL CHILDREN in ALL CARE SETTINGS, especially INFANTS and TODDLERS –through Advocacy and Education! 

The Leadership and Innovation award recognizes an individual who actively cultivates leadership and incubates innovation strategies that propel the workforce, profession, and systems of early learning. This individual recognizes and celebrates uniqueness and excellence in our profession. They also pursue opportunities for innovative projects that increase the knowledge and efficiency of the workforce and establishes collaborative relationships within the community that empower and give voice to diverse perspectives to strengthen the web of supports.