A Reflection on 20 Years

“Meet the pressing needs of the time.” That was the charge left to the Buell Foundation’s Board of Trustees by Temple Hoyne Buell.  In designing a new funding strategy for the foundation, there were many pressing needs to consider.  How could we target our grantmaking to really make a difference?  We decided to follow the most compelling contemporary research:  invest in early childhood development in Colorado.  At that time, there were fewer quality standards, few defined approaches to improving school readiness and parenting skills, and no aligned state system to support young children and their families.  Things needed to change; we really could make a difference investing in this targeted way.  In 1996, we took a very big leap.  More than 20 years later, we’re still firmly focused on investments in early childhood – and we have no intention of changing.

We’ve had some big wins in the last 20 years:

We’ve improved quality.

  • We supported planning for the state’s first quality rating and improvement system. For almost ten years, Qualistar provided voluntary quality ratings and improvement plans to licensed child care facilities across the state.  We supported those ratings as well as activities from the improvement plans.  Over the years our partners were very successful in improving quality in their programs.  Today we continue to support quality ratings in alignment with the universal Colorado Shines system.
  • We launched a network of professional development projects across the state with a focus in rural communities. These projects provide scholarships and counseling to early childhood professionals seeking to become early childhood teachers or center directors.  Through annual and three-year retrospective surveys, we’ve seen retention rates of up to 90% for some of our partners.

We’ve supported leadership.

  • In 2007, the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program was created to identify, nurture, and build the leadership capacity of early childhood professionals throughout Colorado. This graduate-level certificate program prepares 20 leaders each year.
  • The Buell Early Childhood Leaders Network was created subsequently to sustain, enhance and amplify the remarkable success of the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program. This network of more than 170 alumni generate new knowledge, influence the status quo, and align and leverage their collective voices and actions to create equity, opportunity and educational excellence for all young children and families.

We’ve helped to build a system.

  • In partnership with hundreds of Colorado stakeholders, we supported the initial creation and the recent revision of the Early Childhood Colorado Framework. This framework codified a multi-domain system of early childhood for the state and today provides guidance to philanthropists, service providers and change makers who wish to improve the system.
  • We have partnered with and funded nearly all of the state’s early childhood councils. These 34 entities embedded in the contexts of urban, rural and frontier communities make up a critical network uniquely positioned to act as a liaison between local and state-level needs in our field.

Today, we continue to build on our past successes and look to improve our grantmaking.  We have learned through research and interactions with partners that there is important work to be done in areas that augment our regular grantmaking.  To that end, the Buell staff is working in several exciting new areas:

  • We are working to improve the early childhood workforce. With a broad stakeholder group, we are tackling issues related to recruitment, retention and compensation of highly qualified and effective care providers.
  • We are working to strengthen the preschool to third grade continuum. Partnering with school districts, we aim to positively impact children’s transitions into kindergarten.  At the same time, we are working with a national organization, Education Commission of the States, to develop a policy blueprint to impact kindergarten to third grade alignment at the state level.
  • We are strengthening systems for early childhood mental health. With seven other foundations, we created LAUNCH Together.  This innovative approach looks to change practices in five strategy areas while simultaneously informing the state system about needed changes.  More recently we have been also looking at two-generation mental health approaches that will support children and their parents/caregivers.

Every day we push ourselves and our partners to do more, to do better, and to make a difference.  We pride ourselves on being at the leading edge in our field.  Through participation on state commissions, key boards and other advisory groups, the staff has positioned the Buell Foundation as an essential stakeholder and early childhood voice in Colorado.  As we look forward, we are excited to deploy our exceptional staff to work with others to continue to  improve program quality and outcomes for children.  We are excited to learn from our past efforts to create more innovative, creative, impactful grantmaking strategies.  We are excited to continue our journey in meeting the pressing needs of the time.

Dan Ritchie, Board President Susan Steele, Executive Director
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