50th Anniversary Member of the Month: Sharon Easterling

Release Date: January 31, 2017

50th Anniversary Member of the Month

DVAEYC is at a pivotal moment in its history. With 50 years behind us, we are turning a corner and setting an agenda for the next generation, while each day history is being made by children preparing a future not yet imagined. This month we kick off our 50th year celebration, which we will celebrate alongside you--our treasured team of members, advocates and supporters--with a series of events and features.

In the next 50 years new challenges will be defined, new leaders will emerge and the next generation will be solving problems yet to be discovered. We kick off our 50th Anniversary Member of the Month feature by saluting a DVAEYC member familiar to us all, who retired this past summer after 22 years at the helm of our organization.

January Member of the Month: Sharon Easterling,
DVAEYC Executive Director (1994-2016)

Sharon Easterling

Sharon Easterling is credited with growing DVAEYC to the largest local NAEYC affiliate in the U.S., with 30 staff and an annual budget of $2.5 million--and setting the heartbeat of the organization that is pumping stronger than ever today.

Over the past three decades, DVAEYC has paved the way for early childhood educators and advocates with its keen focus on improving quality in early education programs, with a particular emphasis on children impacted by poverty and other risks; and improving public investments so these gains could effectively be taken to scale and sustained. Sharon helped generate a movement that is gaining momentum each day and has helped to define what quality means in the Delaware Valley.

In 1994, Sharon, who began her career as an educator, became the first professional staff member of DVAEYC. Under her leadership, DVAEYC grew to host the largest early childhood professional development conference with 1,500 attendees each year; developed a quality improvement initiative that helped hundreds of early childhood programs reach higher standards in Keystone STARS and national accreditation, and mobilized thousands of early childhood professionals to advocate for increased public investments in quality programs.

Sharon's chief focus at DVAEYC and most notable accomplishments were in her efforts to increase access to high-quality early education, while spearheading professional development and fair wage and benefits for early childhood educators.

In 1997, Easterling led the planning team that designed Child Care Matters, which resulted in bringing T.E.A.C.H. to Pennsylvania, a program that enabled 2,000 childcare staff to earn professional degrees. In the initial roll out of Pre-K Counts, the first state funded pre-k program in PA, she led the City of Philadelphia's work to ensure that 300 childcare staff met the requirements to become lead and assistant teachers. In 1988, she founded a community-based organization, The Preschool Project, to respond to the early education and child care needs in an under-resourced community with high rates of poverty and low educational attainment.

"Fortunately, I was building on an extraordinary legacy that had begun in 1967 and was already a dynamic force for early childhood, even as an all-volunteer organization," said Sharon Easterling, former Executive Director, DVAEYC. "These initiatives were born out of a necessity and while we have come a very long way they remain relevant today as degreed early childhood educators still aren't paid on par with their K-12 colleagues, and more than two-thirds of PA kids still have no access to quality early education."

Most recently, Sharon conceived the idea and secured a planning grant for a statewide campaign to scale up Pennsylvania's investment in high-quality early childhood education; this effort became the widely recognized and highly successful Pre-K for PA campaign, endorsed by the leading early childhood advocacy organizations, public officials and almost 15,000 citizens across PA. She also served as Co-Chair for the Mayor's Commission on Universal Pre-K, which helped sprout the soda tax campaign, which is now funding the first Universal pre-K in Philadelphia.

"We have won the public debate about the importance of our field--but now we must transform the field to deliver on the promise of high-quality ECE. Fixing compensation in early childhood education is completely do-able--on paper. The challenge will be during implementation, where the temptation is to serve more children rather than invest in higher salaries for the workforce. The math is inescapable. It costs more money to pay teachers better--money that could be used to serve more children. But over and over we heard in public testimony and even from other cities that have gone before us with massive Pre-K expansions, it is better to serve children well than to simply serve more children.

"Thankfully, Philadelphia has a strong and growing cadre of early childhood leaders who can carry the torch forward, and their time to lead is now. My hope and prayer for the city is that Pre-K in Philadelphia will become a model for the rest of the country by serving all young children with an early childhood workforce that is both highly skilled AND fairly compensated. As my successor, Carol Austin likes to say about our beloved Philadelphia, great things are meant to start here."

Sharon has made an indelible mark in the field and in our hearts. Her spirit lives on as the heartbeat of DVAEYC grows and the hard work of ensuring as quality expansion is underway, wages are in line with qualifications and education and, above all, quality is never sacrificed.