Washtenaw United: Increasing investment in early childhood education and families in Washtenaw County
ABOUT EDDIE MANUSZAK:
Eddie is executive director of the WISD's Early Childhood Development program. He began in this role on July 1, 2022. Prior to taking this position, he was a Public School Superintendent at Dundee Community Schools in Monroe County, Michigan for six years from 2016-2022. Before that from 2012-2016 was the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Student Services at Bedford Public Schools in Temperance, Michigan also from Monroe County. Additionally, was an Elementary Principal and District Coordinator for Early Childhood Education at Tecumseh Public Schools from 2003-2012 and a classroom teacher at Blissfield Community Schools (1st grade/K), Dundee Community Schools (long-term sub – 5th grade & K-8 Art) and MSD of Pike Township in Indianapolis, IN (Kindergarten) from 1995-2003. This is year 28 as a professional educator. During the time as an administrator have begun pre-school programs at Tecumseh, Bedford, and Dundee. Additionally, finishing up a PhD in Educational Leadership that has a dissertation topic involving early childhood education.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and the new academic year is about a month old now. I'm David Fair, and I'd like to welcome you to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. Over the years, we've developed a growing understanding of the importance of early childhood education and the role that plays in creating opportunity and success and helping in the ongoing effort to achieve community equity and equality. The Washtenaw Intermediate School District's Early Childhood Development Department works with over 2,000 kids from birth through age five and touches every school district in Washtenaw County. Today, our guest is going to help us better understand the impacts of early involvement and the ongoing evolution of early development programs. Eddie Manuszak joined the WISD this past June as executive director for Early Childhood Development. Prior to that, he spent six years as superintendent of Dundee Community Schools in Monroe County and 28 years as a public educator now. Well, thank you so much for making time for us today, Eddie. I really appreciate it.
Eddie Manuszak: Oh, thank you very much for having me on the program.
David Fair: I mentioned that your department assists from birth to age five and beyond as well, but I'm really interested in that age range. What does the program look like assisting from birth forward?
Eddie Manuszak: Really, it starts with the idea that children at prenatal, the care that that mother gets ahead of giving birth, is also very essential. And so, we have partnerships around the county help us get the word out about making sure that that pregnancy needs to be sacred, that we want to help with. But then, once that child is born, we truly want to have the ability to go what we refer to, or I refer to as, from cradle into kindergarten. We want to really be that partner working closely with that family in making sure that they are being taken care of and if there are any needs that they have, our department does have those resources for them. We also have our resources and programs and the ability to offer support to every family in every portion of our community here in Washtenaw County.
David Fair: How do these programs go about identifying those potential learning and/or behavioral issues and address them as the kids move through the various stages of development?
Eddie Manuszak: Well, again, another great question, and this is where we rely on our partnerships that we have with parents and caregivers and guardians. They are clearly the child's first teacher. They are in a position where they're offering that nurturing environment in the very first moments of life and then throughout that child's early life, along with organizations, you know, doctors and mental health agencies, you know, other service agencies, other community-based organizations to give us referrals. We also have a very active campaign to inform the public about the services that we have that we provide. So, our hope is offering insight, so that families are made aware that the Washtenaw Intermediate School District's Early Childhood Department is here to serve.
David Fair: Washtenaw United and our conversation on early childhood development continues on 89 one WEMU with Eddie Manuszak. He is Executive Director of the Early Childhood Development Department at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Has the U.S. Department of Education been able to track tangible evidence that the programs are making an impact on the student experience later on in life and the educational outcomes?
Eddie Manuszak: David, another great question. And so, you know, this is where the national work that I've done prior to my arrival here in Washtenaw County coordinating and leading a national effort--it's called the AASA Early Learning Cohort--has really opened me up to getting to know national early leaders around the nation. There is evidence-based practices that we are tracking that the U.S. Ed Department does track. And the significant impact that early childhood is having is clear. We know that a child's brain develops--90% of it develops--by the time they're age five. So, if we continue to what I refer to as frontloading all of our services, you go into making early childhood matter most in an early education environment. We then are doing our due diligence by allowing that child to really start in their educational career or just their life in a very positive manner because early childhood is an equity-based initiative. And your zip code should not define the quality of the educational experience that any child should receive. And that goes for all the children here in Washtenaw County.
David Fair: We certainly know that there are racial and income disparities, as you mentioned, very often defined by zip code. So, how are the programs and services that the WISD offers funded so that they are accessible to all?
Eddie Manuszak: Yeah. So, we as a department take our guidance from...I know the Great Start Readiness Program offers us guidance and then also the National Office of Head Start offers us guidance in this as well. And so, we do have the ability to offer services to all children in the county and in those communities where there is potentially a lower socioeconomic status. Their poverty index is higher, maybe their free and reduced lunch rate is higher in that local district. And then, we are then able to offer those communities and those districts more resources, so that we can then meet the needs of those children and their families on a greater basis.
David Fair: Once again, we're talking with the executive director of the Early Childhood Development Department at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. And we are certainly happy that we have Eddie Manuszak along today. Now, those the children encounter are going to be exceedingly important. So, how much is not only preparing the teachers and coaches and counselors, but providing them the resources necessary, so they can best serve the students? I'm sure you hear it all the time. A lot of work is put on the table for these teachers and compensation is not going up to match inflation, and they're spending more of their personal money just to meet the responsibilities of the job. So, how do we ensure that there are enough people and that those people are trained, qualified, and in a good place, both professionally and emotionally, to care for these children?
Eddie Manuszak: I have to say, David, your questions are wonderful. These are amazing, on-target questions that we are all addressing, you know, not just in the early childhood education arena, but we're now talking about in what I refer to as the P-26 arena where, you know, from prenatal to age 26. You know, teacher shortages right now are prevalent. We are working steadfastly on really impacting and increasing our capacity as an organization to what we refer to as creating a better teacher pipeline. One of the things I come across on a national basis is University of California-Berkeley has a department that dedicates itself to studying in the amount of pay a teacher or, you know, professional educator, especially those in the early childhood field gives. And, unfortunately, their research shows that the lower the age, so the younger the child, the less that individual will make. Because, as you are aware, the $800 billion package for universal child care and preschool did not make it into the approved budget.
David Fair: Right.
Eddie Manuszak: And so, we are working hard as an advocacy agency to kind of organize this voice--this collective voice--about this is a really important issue. And, you know, since 2022 or since 2020 to today in the childcare field, not just within Head Start or Great Start or early Head Start, but I'm talking childcare field. There are a million less workers nationwide in the childcare field since the pandemic has begun. And I know that the superintendent, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Norman, is meeting with other superintendents. I'm meeting with superintendents, really coming up with these ideas of trying to create these teacher pipelines that we can then pull from, so that we do not have shortages for teachers. And then, you did mention also, David, about the mental and well-being of our staff, and that is also really important. So, as the executive director, you know, we as a department are really zeroing in on that aspect this year as a department, so that they can then in turn help the teachers that they are coaching and working closely with in the classrooms and also with the parents making sure that they are mentally well. So, that it's really it's going to take a team effort, and we're here working together as a team. And I couldn't be more proud.
David Fair: And a lot of the team that I heard you mention is involved with administration and at the highest levels. So, when we talk about creating teacher pipelines, what voice are teachers being given in these conversations that you are having and putting forth?
Eddie Manuszak: And that's a great question. So, teachers and staff are offering their input. And, you know, this is where offering the ability for feedback and working closely with other departments within other agencies and also creating informational campaigns, so that students in high school, you know, who may expressed an interest in being at the educational field, we want to make sure that they are afforded opportunities. So, really, you know, listening to and hearing student voice and then using that as a platform to elevate and amplify that voice is so important. And in the blue square of the Head Start symbol, the arrow is pointing up. And that's truly what this program, initially, when it was first developed in the 1960s, was wanting to do--to get families out of the cycle of low socioeconomic status and low poverty situations and really improve their quality of life and the quality of life and their children. And we're continuing to do that every day.
David Fair: Well, I'd really like to thank you for the time in the conversation today. I really appreciate it.
Eddie Manuszak: Thank you so much for the opportunity to make early childhood matter most and to really offer the community at large here at Washtenaw County the ability to know that we're here as a resource. You can find us on our website. You know, our programs are all listed there for everyone to see. And we hope that the community continues to see us as partners with them in their child's development.
David Fair: Well, that is Eddie Manuszak, and he is executive director of the Early Childhood Development Department in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. He's been our guest on Washtenaw United. And for more information on today's topic, our conversation, and all of the links necessary that were just pointed out, all you have to do is visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
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