Tennesseans for Quality Early Education Selects United Way of Greater Nashville to Lead Bright Start Tennessee Network

Sep 28, 2021 | News

United Way of Greater Nashville Tapped to Lead One of Six Inaugural Community Partnerships That Will Design, Implement Evidence-Based Early Success Plans

Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE) announced that United Way of Greater Nashville (UWGN) has been selected to lead one of six Tennessee community partnerships of the Bright Start Tennessee Network (Bright Start TN)—a new statewide initiative of TQEE to accelerate early learning outcomes and close achievement and opportunity gaps for Tennessee children birth through third grade.

Research has repeatedly shown that the first eight years of a child’s life are a critical development period, and third grade is widely acknowledged as a benchmark year that determines future academic success. Yet more than two thirds of Tennessee’s third graders are not proficient in reading or in math. Our state is facing a crisis that the Bright Start TN Network will help fix.

“Bright Start TN is an important extension of the work TQEE does to advance smart state policies and practices that support young children’s success,” said TQEE President and CEO Blair Taylor. “But state policies are only as successful as their local implementation. Through Bright Start TN we’ll tap the power of local community members – civic and business leaders, child care providers, nonprofits, schools, families and other stakeholders – to create and implement local plans for early childhood success that leverage both state and community assets and resources. These teams will also inform TQEE’s state policy agenda and expand our advocacy network.”

The Bright Start partnership in Nashville will build on the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success, a literacy-focused collective impact initiative in which UWGN serves as the backbone. The Blueprint team and a wide array of community organizations and stakeholders will drive the effort. Senior Manager of Early Education Stephanie Bradford has been tapped as UWGN’s Bright Start fellow and will represent the Bright Start Nashville partnership on a statewide team of fellows from six regions of Tennessee.

The other inaugural Bright Start TN community partnerships are:

• Chattanooga/Hamilton County, coordinated by Chattanooga 2.0
• Knoxville/Knox County, coordinated by United Way of Greater Knoxville
• Memphis/Shelby County, coordinated by First 8 Memphis
• Northeast Tennessee, coordinated by STRONG Accountable Care Community
• West Tennessee, coordinated by United Way of West Tennessee

The partnerships were chosen through a selective process that considered their commitment to address learning and opportunity gaps in early care and education birth through third grade and their capacity to assemble community teams to accomplish the initiative’s goals. Each community will use data to better understand barriers to early learning, implement evidence-based and promising strategies, and share learnings with peer communities and state policymakers. The partnerships will create local plans by the summer of 2022, with implementation expected to be complete by 2025.

“We are honored to be part of this first-of-its kind Tennessee statewide initiative that builds upon the impressive foundational work that has already taken place as part of Nashville’s Blueprint for Early Childhood Success,” said Erica Mitchell, executive vice president and chief community impact officer for United Way of Erica Mitchell. “Despite the tremendous efforts of teachers, families and students, three out of four Nashville third graders are not reading on grade level. Through Bright Start TN, we look forward to working alongside communities across Tennessee to implement data-driven and evidence-informed practices, share learnings, and shape state policy that better supports a continuum of high-quality early care and education birth through third grade.”

Bright Start TN partnerships are each awarded an initial $300,000 over three years from TQEE and matching grants, with philanthropic investment expected to grow. TQEE is providing significant in-kind technical assistance support through state and national experts in early childhood care and education. State government leaders from departments of human services, education and health are also involved as critical partners to help ensure communities are optimizing existing state assets and resources.

“We know that skills and performance gaps take root long before third grade and are tied to opportunity gaps,” said Jonathan Scoonover, TQEE vice president of community engagement and director of Bright Start TN. “Unfortunately, a disjointed and insufficient patchwork of education and supports leaves many children vulnerable, resulting in poor academic outcomes for the children and our state. TQEE’s Bright Start TN Network aims to change that, and we’re excited to work alongside United Way and the community partners they’ve assembled in this urgent endeavor.”

For more information about Bright Start TN, visit tqee.org/bright-start.