Former governor to headline summit

by Jim Boyle

Former Republican Gov. Al Quie will be the keynote speaker for an early childhood summit at noon Jan. 31 at the Crown Room at the Wellstead in Rogers.

His talk is being hosted by the Elk River Early Childhood Coalition. This is the same group that brought a Speak Out to Elk River to focus its energies after it was birthed by a $20,000 grant from the Initiative Foundation.

The group has made progress on its goals of ensuring that all children are ready for kindergarten  in the Elk River area and creating knowledge and awareness of early childhood resources. Members of the coalition will now begin reaching out to the leadership of the community to expedite that process, and that was one reason Quie was sought out.

“We’re really looking for the community to sign on as advocates for early childhood and to have a better understanding of what it means to the community,” said Kathy Simonson, manager of Early Childhood Family Education. “We’re hoping to create a sense of urgency. You can’t get the first five years of a child’s life back.”

The former governor’s messages on early education have resonated with people, Simonson says.  After leaving office in 1983, he served on the state’s early education advocacy group known as Ready 4K. He became one of its most vocal members.

He talks about the critical role parents play in the success of children. And he cuts right to the chase about how the demands of adults work counter to the needs of children they are tasked with preparing for kindergarten. Quie has been an advocate for bringing parents and children together in care and educational settings for the benefit of children’s needs, and — in turn — the needs of the community.

That’s one of the connections Charlie Blesener, the Elk River Area School District’s director of community education, hopes to make at the summit.

The district has been compiling statistical data that shows how important the pre-school years are in determining the success of a child. Blesener will talk about what that means in terms of the future workforce.

The Initiative Foundation has been attuned to this, as it has led the overall Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative.  Kathy Gaalswyk, president of the Initiative Foundation, will also speak at the forum.

The Initiative Foundation has been focused on several goals. They include:
•Educate citizens about the first five years of rapid brain development that forms lifetime personalities, social skills and learning capacity.
•Promote parents and families as the primary and most important caregivers of young children, and foster the concept that nurturing and educating young children should be also embraced by entire communities.
•Help community coalitions create a shared vision and plan of action around the care and education of young children and their families.

Early Childhood Education Summit:
Sponsored by the Elk River Early Childhood Education Coalition
When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Jan. 31, 2012
Where: Crown Room at the Wellstead of Rogers
Tickets: $20