“I am a product of early education and care; and my daughter is a product of it as well,” Nikki Burnett told us recently. Burnett’s daughter is currently a student at Howard University.
As for Burnett herself she has come full circle. Born and raised in Massachusetts, in Springfield’s Mason Square neighborhood, Burnett worked for over a decade as a senior administrator at the American Heart Association. Now she’s back in Mason Square working as the executive director of the new Educare Springfield center, which just opened this month and is already at full enrollment.
Educare is an evidence-based national network of 25 early education programs with the sweeping goal of figuring out “the most effective and the most promising ways to work with each individual child and each individual family, and we do that with excitement and passion for the work,” according to Charlotte Brantley, the president and CEO of the Clayton Early Learning, Educare Denver.
Burnett echoes this ambition, explaining, “We may only have 141 children enrolled, but we are beholden to the education of all children.” Educare’s approach is to innovate and share its work on preparing young children to succeed in school. Burnett wants to ensure that all the children whose lives she touches aren’t struggling to catch up in kindergarten – as well as in first, second, and third grade.
“Our studies have shown that the longer we have a child in Educare, the better they are prepared and the better their outcomes will be.”
To create these opportunities for children, Burnett will handle administration and communications as well as tapping her expertise in fundraising and policy. The academic program will be run by a school director, and this — having a director who can focus solely on education – is, Burnett says, “a luxury.”
How did Burnett move from the American Heart Association to Educare?
“I’ve been doing a lot of reading,” she says. Burnett has also been consulting with other Educare executive directors, and she is working closely with Mary Walachy, the executive director of the Davis Foundation. The foundation worked hard to bring Educare to Springfield, and while Walachy plans to retire, she will continue to represent the foundation in its support of Educare Springfield.
Burnett is building, too, on her own educational experience. She has an associate degree from Holyoke Community College, and she earned a bachelor’s degree in Leadership and Organizational Science that she earned from Bay Path University, where she is currently earning an MBA in Entrepreneurial Thinking & Innovative Practices.
As Educare’s executive director, Burnett is focusing on the organization’s four core features: data utilization, embedded professional development, high-quality teaching practices, and intensive family engagement.”
Gathering data helps Educare see what works and share best practices.
To embed professional development and have quality teaching, Burnett says, Educare requires “master teachers as well as intensive coaching, mentoring, peer learning, and reflective practices. And what we have found through research is that this produces high-quality early education and care for children.”
And on family engagement, Burnett makes it simple:
“If we’re not enriching families, we are not enriching children.”
That’s part of why Educare provides full-day care, so that parents can be more valuable in the workplace – and less distracted by worry about their kids.
Educare Springfield will have a grand opening in the spring. And Burnett will keep building relationships to help the program learn, grow, share, and create a “cradle to college corridor” right in the neighborhood where she grew up.
What does Burnett want policymakers to know about her work?
“How important it is to have a budget that reflects how precious children are.”
And, finally, where does Burnett’s boundless energy come from?
“I am a servant leader at heart,” she says. “And it’s my dream that Educare’s quality is available to all children.”