Sally Fuller

Contrary to what you may have heard, Sally Fuller has not completely retired.

Strategies for Children is excited to announce that Fuller, a long-time colleague and friend, has joined our board.

“I have such tremendous respect for what Strategies has done and continues to do,” Fuller told us recently.

As we’ve blogged before, Fuller worked for the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, where she started in 2005 as the project director for Cherish Every Child, the foundation’s early childhood initiative.

“The Davis family cares deeply about education. That’s their overarching commitment,” Fuller explains. “They knew Margaret Blood,” the founder of Strategies for Children, “and they brought Margaret to Springfield to work with them.”

The Davis Foundation came to sum up its intentions in a single question, Fuller says: “How can we work together to put children at the center of the community’s agenda?”

“That’s how the Cherish Every Child initiative was started at the foundation, and they needed someone to work full time, so that’s why I went there.”

Fuller, the foundation, and community partners across Springfield worked on expanding early education opportunities and on ensuring that more of the city’s children could read proficiently by the third grade.

“We know from a childhood development standpoint how critical that was,” Fuller says of herself and John Davis (a senior director at the foundation), who had looked at the data and seen that only one third of Springfield’s children could read at grade level by the end of third grade. “We started to do this before it became fashionable. The National Campaign for Grade Level Reading started a year after we did. So, I can very honestly say that we were building the plane as we were flying it.”

Fuller worked hard to connect members of the early education community who were both in public school pre-K classrooms and in community-based programs. These efforts included using social media to reach out to families.

“We said, look, what happens before kids get to kindergarten is really critical. We really understood that achieving that third-grade milestone was going to take a collaborative effort.”

Twelve years later, in 2017, “Springfield was recognized as one of 15 cities in the nation to be honored as an All-America City,” reports in an article profiling Fuller. “The award, presented by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the National Civic League, recognizes the city’s efforts to ensure more young people from low-income families achieve grade-level reading proficiency and early school success.”

For Fuller, however, the idea of immersing children in a language-rich world was something she learned from her mother.

“ ‘She read to me, she talked to me (and) she had me acting in plays,’ Fuller remembers of her childhood in New Jersey,” writes. “ ‘It’s why I say my mother gave me words. What a rich childhood I had. Sometimes (though) your mother drives you nuts when she wants to read you Shakespeare and you’re only 6.’ ”

Although Fuller is technically retired, when we asked what was next for early education, she answered like a woman who is still on a mission.

“We really have to focus on what happens in the family. In my community, we are very cognizant of how much more there is to do with family engagement.”

“Let’s do this awareness work, so that parents understand how critical they are to their child’s success.” From reading to children on bus rides to looking for the color green in the grocery store, “No one has to have a Ph.D. Just where you are, make your time count with your child.”

What if money were no object?

“I would help build the quality of our early childhood education system. We know that we have the least well-compensated, valued, and sometimes trained educators doing the most important work. We’re just not supporting this incredible workforce that’s doing this work that’s so critical.”

Keep an eye out for Fuller. Not only will she be on Strategies’ board, she is also continuing to tutor four-years-old at an early childhood center, drawing on her training in one of the interventions in the Massachusetts Reading Corps. (Fuller knows the approach well; she brought the Minnesota Reading Corps to Springfield.)

“It’s so cool,” she says of tutoring. “I help with vocabulary development. And I see children who are so bright, they absolutely blow me away. Sometimes they say ‘I know that word,’ or they say the word to me in Spanish. They’re so excited to see me come. One of the little boys, says ‘When are you coming back grandma?’ ”

“I have to grab whoever will listen,” Fuller adds about working with four-year-olds. “When kids have to choose between me and the sand table, I’m not always sure that I’m going to be the winner.”

How’s actual retirement going? Fuller is taking some trips. But she also admits that Mary Walachy, the executive director of the Davis Foundation, has declared that Fuller is “failing retirement.”

Which is great news for the future of early education and care.