We are pleased to announce the appointment of Strategies for Children CEO Carolyn Lyons as the organization’s new president.
Lyons joined SFC in 2002 as chief operating officer after a successful career in business that included serving as vice president of Pearson Education’s Learning Network and director of international programming at Continental Cablevision/MediaOne. She serves on the board of the Milton Early Childhood Alliance and has chaired the board of the Hattie B. Cooper Community Center in Boston. Lyons graduated magna cum laude from St. Joseph’s University and earned an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Margaret Blood, SFC’s founding president, will continue to serve on the board of directors.
Lyons assumes the presidency of SFC after a decade of outstanding leadership, during which she worked closely with Blood and Amy O’Leary, director of SFC’s Early Education for All Campaign, to build the organization and spur the development of a statewide system of high-quality early education and care. Together they led efforts that resulted in the creation of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, the Universal Pre-Kindergarten statute and grant program and the Early Childhood Educators Scholarship and laid the foundation for the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. Together they launched the 10-year campaign to improve children’s reading proficiency that began with the June 2010 the release of “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” a report that SFC commissioned from Nonie Lesaux, a nationally recognized literacy expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Lyons’s appointment comes at a time of transition for the organization, as it adds an on-the-ground best practices initiative around reading proficiency and high-quality early education to its ongoing state-level policy work.
“We’re at a very exciting juncture,” Lyons says. “We’ve spent a decade focused on putting in place the foundation of a system of high-quality early education for all children, beginning at birth. We need to continue to monitor that and develop policies as appropriate, but a lot of the work going forward also needs to be a complementary best practices initiative that will align research, policy and practice to impact outcomes for children.”
Lyons joined SFC a year after its founding and brought with her the portfolio of business skills the board sought for the young organization. At SFC, Lyons has added a sophisticated understanding of policy to that portfolio. In appointing Lyons as SFC’s president, the board stressed the combination of business and policy acumen that she brings to the organization as it broadens its scope.
“In her years at Strategies for Children, Carolyn has established SFC as an efficient and focused organization that stresses demonstrating impact and results. She has been instrumental in implementing a policy vision that has benefited young children and families across the commonwealth,” said Paul O’Brien, chairman of SFC’s board. “Carolyn’s skills and experience in both the business and policy worlds make her the right choice to lead SFC into the next phase of its work.”
For its first decade, SFC focused on ensuring that children in Massachusetts have access to high-quality early education. In 2010, it broadened its focus to ensuring that young children read proficiently by the end of third grade, a benchmark that a compelling body of research finds strongly predicts children’s chances of success in school and beyond. Yet 39% of third graders in Massachusetts read below grade level – and performance remains virtually unchanged since 2001. The process of learning to read begins at birth, with children’s earliest language development, and includes high-quality early education as well as strong primary grade instruction.
The broader focus has infused renewed urgency into SFC’s advocacy for young children.
At the state level, Governor Patrick last week signed An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, which is informed by “Turning the Page,” into law. It establishes an Early Literacy Expert Panel to advise state education agencies. At the local level, Lyons envisions a two-pronged best practices initiative, also guided by the research-based recommendations in “Turning the Page.” The first is the creation of a learning network of a small number of communities “focused,” Lyons says, “on the critical levers that research says make the most difference.” The second prong is a broader effort aimed at helping communities across the commonwealth address early literacy through quarterly convenings on topics of mutual interest and potential impact, as well as other strategies.
“It’s been remarkable to see how this broader frame on ensuring third grade reading proficiency resonates with so many groups that previously might have supported early education but hadn’t really focused on how critical it is to the overall education agenda,” Lyons says. “This is an issue that we all share. This is not just the responsibility of the schools. We know that learning begins at birth. We need to move our work forward and get policymakers and the state and society to focus more on children’s learning, starting at birth. We need to make sure that, as a commonwealth, we do what we can to support that.”
Lyons has also worked as vice president of EF Cultural Travel in the Netherlands, a consultant with the Continental Consulting Group in Boston, and marketing manager for E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company in Delaware. She serves on the board of Mil Milagros.