GALA Winners
Tiffany Sheets, Sonia Gomez-Banrey, Marie St. Fleur, Flossy Calderon, Jennie Fitzkee, Abby Morales, Mary Lu Love, Melissa Russell, and Amy O’Leary


There was a happy crowd at last month’s annual Early Educators Gala — an evening of dinner, dancing, and awards that was emceed by our own Amy O’Leary, director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All Campaign.

“Early education and care is getting a lot of attention at the state and national level. We’re seeing new programs and more funding,” O’Leary said. “But at the heart of all we do are early educators who build nurturing relationships with young children. These relationships prepare children to be happy successful learners. It was an honor to help celebrate this work at the gala.”

“Early education professionals are the delivery system for the healthy development of young learners,” said Department of Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber, who attended the celebration. “The gala was an inspiring celebration of passion and practice, showcasing the tremendous contributions that early educators are making every day to children, families and the Commonwealth.”

As Amy pointed out at the gala, a lot has changed since last year.

• Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg created the Kids First initiative

• Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo called on leaders from the business community to join an Early Education and Care Business Advisory Group that focuses on building a strong workforce

• Massachusetts is implementing the federal Preschool Expansion Grants in five communities, and the state has provided funding for 13 communities to develop expansion plans, and

• The Put MA Kids First Coalition has prioritized supporting the early education and school age workforce in the state budget – and the House of Representatives has responded, investing $15 million in workforce compensation in their version of the FY17 budget

Against this backdrop, local leadership in the field has been deeply inspiring. Among these leaders are the winners at this year’s awards gala.

The 2016 Early Educator Award recipients were:

Leadership & Management: Flossy Calderon, Director of Children and Family Services at ABCD Head Start, Boston

Community Relationships: Sonia Gomez-Banrey, Director of Countdown to Kindergarten at Boston Public Schools

Curriculum: Abby Morales, Program Manager in the Early Childhood Department at Boston Public Schools

Environment: Jennie Fitzkee, Head Teacher at Groton Community School

Family Partnership: Tiffany Sheets, Infant Teacher at Ellis Memorial in Boston

STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math): Melissa Russell, Director of The Hundred Acre School, Sandwich

The Pat Xavier Advocacy Award: Marie St. Fleur, Esq, President and CEO of the
Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children, and

BAEYC Abigail Elliot Award: Mary Lu Love, the former Program Director at the Institute for Community Inclusion and adjunct faculty member at the University of Massachusetts, Boston

In addition:

• 28 programs earned accreditation from NAEYC (the National Association for the Education of Young Children)

• 2 providers earned accreditation from the National Association for Family Child Care, and

• 57 educators earned their CDA – Child Development Associate

Congratulations to all the award winners and to all the recently accredited programs and early educators.