Photo: Courtesy of Jay Gonzalez
Photo: Courtesy of Jay Gonzalez

The Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care has a new chairperson: Jay Gonzalez, a Cleveland native and the former secretary of administration and finance for Governor Deval Patrick. Gonzalez is also president and CEO of CeltiCare Health Plan of Massachusetts.

“Our best opportunity to close achievement gaps is to provide all children with a strong start,” Patrick said in a press release announcing that Gonzalez and Katie Joyce were joining the Board. “Jay and Katie bring to the board diverse experiences and knowledge that will help further the good work already underway with the Board of Early Education and Care to ensure success for all students.” Joyce is vice president for Policy and Domestic and International Government Relations at Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Gonzalez replaces JD Chesloff, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, who became board chair in 2009 and will remain as a board member.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve on the Board and to engage in this important work with you,” Gonzalez writes in a letter to introduce himself to the community. “While my only direct experience with early education and care was observing first-hand the positive impact it had on my two daughters, I have done a lot of work to support low-income families and to develop and implement major government reform initiatives.”

A Running Start

“As the recently appointed Chair of the Board of Early Education and Care, I wanted to reach out to introduce myself and formally request your help,” Gonzalez adds in his letter. “Specifically, I ask that you work with the Board and the Department to build on the progress made under the Patrick Administration to make our system of early education and care what it must be — a system where every child has access to high quality early education and care.”

Gonzalez is starting now. He has asked Tom Weber, the state’s early education and care commissioner, to brief the board at its next meeting on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014, at 1:00 p.m.

Gonzalez is also calling a special meeting of the Board on October 28th, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. at the Worcester Historical Museum (30 Elm Street, Worcester, MA), “for the sole purpose of holding a public hearing to hear your views on the state of early education and care, what works well and what needs improvement, and the steps we should be taking to address the challenges going forward.”

The Challenge Ahead

“There’s still a lot to do to really ensure that we’re serving every child in the commonwealth whose family can’t afford high-quality early education,” Gonzalez said in a recent interview. “I want us collaboratively to be thinking big about what it is that we need out of the system and how we get there.”

For Gonzalez, thinking big includes setting consistent and high expectations across the state’s education and human service departments and agencies, and looking for ways to better align those efforts to serve children.

“I do not have a magic pot of state money,” Gonzalez said, when we asked about how his experience at administration and finance might affect his board work. “If anything I’m much more cognizant of the limitations of state resources.”

“I know that there is a huge return on investment for the economy, government, and society as a whole when we provide children and families access to high quality early education and care,” he writes. “This return on investment comes in the form of more high-functioning, working individuals contributing to our economic and social wellbeing. In other words, it leads to more people who find gainful employment to support their families and less people who require expensive government services associated with crime, poverty and other negative social outcomes.”

Gonzalez wants to take stock: identify where the early education system is now, what the gaps are, and how closing these gaps would benefit children, their future employers, and society. Make the case, he says, then work with policymakers to find ways to invest in more progress.

Make Way for Ducklings… and a Pink Planet

As we often do, we asked Gonzalez about his favorite children’s book.

“I love ‘Make Way for Ducklings,’” he said, explaining that he read the Robert McCloskey classic to his daughters.

Gonzalez also mentioned “Priscilla and the Pink Planet,” a book about a girl who lives in a land where the queen makes everything pink because she loves the color so much.

“Of all the colors, some think pink is the best.
But poor, little Priscilla, she needed a rest.
She just couldn’t eat one more bowl of pink porridge,
so she took all her pink things and put them in storage.”

Things do change after Priscilla sees the queen, and a lesson is learned.

Gonzalez’s take: “I loved the message of that story.”