Susan Leger-Ferraro (Photo courtesy of Little Sprouts)

Congratulations to Little Sprouts, the Lawrence-based network of early education and care programs named 2011 Small Business of the Year by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Founder Susan Leger-Ferraro “went from being a teenager taking care of six kids in a rented duplex to the CEO of a $1 million-plus, multiple award-winning enterprise, serving more than 1,500 children in 13 locations across the state, with more in the pipeline,” the Chamber noted in an advertising supplement in The Boston Globe. “Early education,” she told the Chamber, “is not usually recognized as a business.”

Leger-Ferraro, who serves on the Advisory and Policy Committees of our Early Education for All Campaign, obtained a license at age 17 to care for six children in an apartment near her parents’ Methuen home. She moved the business to her parents’ house to save money and in 1984 opened the first Little Sprouts Learning Center. She now has plans to open eight new programs in Greater Boston.

Little Sprouts serves a diverse population of children, with 56 cultures and 23 languages represented. For the past seven years, the U.S. Department of Education has given Little Sprouts a “Preschool Centers of Excellence” award in recognition of its positive impact on early literacy skills and narrowing the achievement gap.

Last year the U.S.  Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive workforce launched a multiyear campaign for high-quality early education that, among other things, provides business leaders with information so they can advocate for improved early learning opportunities for young children.

“Global competition for human talent and innovation, long-standing educational achievement gaps, low high school graduation rates, and the pending retirement of 77 million baby boomers have placed tremendous workforce pressures on American business,” ICW states in the introduction to its report “Ready, Set Go! Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education.”

“These pressures, if not checked, will jeopardize our national economic security and the viability of the American dream…. Achieving a world-class [education] system begins with high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age five.”