50th Anniversary Member of the Month

Throughout 2017, we will highlight a few of the DVAEYC members who have made a lasting impact over the years.

Please check back in future months to learn more about some of our many outstanding members.

Sharon Easterling, Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children Executive Director (1994-2016)

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.

February Member of the Month: Alison Lutton, DVAEYC Project Director to support NAEYC and NAFCC accreditation, First Higher Education Accreditation Director at NAEYC

Alison Lutton recalls very clearly when she first discovered DVAEYC. As she tells it, the year was 1988 or so and she was a new family child care provider in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia. Excited about her work, eager to learn more about it and to meet others who were doing it; she called a child care center in her neighborhood at the time, Bright Start. She recalls her nervousness, not sure what reception she would get. The director answered the phone, was warm and helpful, and invited her to come visit the center and observe any time.

“What amazing luck on my part – that director was DVAEYC member Debbie Green, a leader in our early childhood community and now the director of The Parent Infant Center in West Philadelphia,” she recollects warmly.

Alison set a path to earn NAFCC accreditation, join NAEYC and DVAEYC, volunteer for the DVAEYC conference committee, and was invited to run for the DVAEYC board before she says she even understood what a board did. “What a great learning experience!”

As Alison continued to grow and improve as a family child care provider, she realized that she needed to return to college. With a BA in social work she needed to learn more. Alison found an evening master’s degree program in early childhood education at Beaver College, now Arcadia University and enrolled.

“In another stroke of luck, one of my professors was Mary Daniel, another DVAEYC member and leader in our community,” Alison told us. “I cannot imagine a more inspiring mentor. Her classes were challenging but supportive and the discussions deep. She hosted a small group of early childhood teachers who met monthly to talk about our work. We brought food, sat in a circle, and shared child anecdotes or artwork that was exciting or troubling to us. Mary listened and prompted, as we all learned how to help each other, apply child development knowledge, and reflect on our professional experiences while respecting child and family confidentiality.”

Alison began to go to national NAEYC conferences broadening her horizons again and meeting colleagues from all over the country.

The early 1990s was an exciting time for DVAEYC. In 1994 we made the leap to hiring our first executive director, Sharon Easterling. Sharon was skilled at many things including fundraising, building strong staff teams, and developing programs meaningful to our community. That year she hired two part-time staff members: Liz Chilton as conference director and Alison as director of a project to support NAEYC and NAFCC program accreditation in the region. We had a tiny grant of $15,000 and used mentoring as our primary strategy.

“I worked with more incredible leaders in our field including Mary Graham and Sherilynn Kimble, directors of two of the first NAEYC accredited centers in Philadelphia, and Michele DiAddezio, one of the first NAFCC accredited family child care homes in our region,” said Alison. “I juggled three part time jobs: DVAEYC, teaching evening classes at Community College of Philadelphia, and keeping my family child care home open 3 days a week.”

By 1999 Alison was in love with teaching early childhood teachers. When a fulltime faculty position opened up at Northampton Community College she and her husband moved to Bethlehem, PA. She participated in state workgroups that wrote our first PA Core Body of Knowledge. She joined ACCESS, the national professional association for early childhood faculty at associate degree programs and soon was on their national board as a regional representative, then treasurer and then president. She served on NAEYC advisory groups revising our national professional standards for early childhood teacher preparation and developing a new accreditation system for associate degree programs. And in 2006, Alison applied to be the first higher education accreditation director at NAEYC, was hired and headed to Washington, D.C. where she worked for NAEYC for ten years, directing the higher education accreditation work and working on grants and federal contracts creating resources and providing technical assistance to state early childhood PD systems.

Today, Alison works as a self-employed consultant, providing support to early childhood professional development initiatives around the country. It’s exciting to be in Philadelphia again, to reunite with DVAEYC friends and this vibrant professional community!”

When asked to reflect on her own career Alison’s sentiments illustrate why we chose her as our 50th Anniversary February Member of the Month.

“I know that the doors to this profession opened because I joined DVAEYC. Every DVAEYC member that I met, every committee and work group I volunteered for, rewarded me with new knowledge and skills, new friendships, and new opportunities. My career has been so satisfying because of those children and families I served in 1990s and still know today, but also because I joined DVAEYC 35 years ago and engaged with this wonderful early childhood community. It is an honor to be DVAEYC member of the month. Thank you!”

Sherilynn Johnson Kimble has more than 35 years’ experience in education, administration and management. She specializes in early childhood education, providing services as a trainer, consultant, mentor, coach, and technical assistant.

She is passionate leader always striving to empower others. Currently an Instructor for Child Development Associate Certificate coursework , she also serves as a PD Specialist for the Council of Professional Recognition. She served as an adjunct faculty member at Community College of Philadelphia and Rutger’s University. Sherilynn served on the Professional Development Council of the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs. She has designed and facilitated an educational training series for parents and teachers and a Mentoring Project for Early Childhood Directors and Teachers. She has served and continues to serve on local boards dedicated to community service on women’s and children’s issues. She has been a member of National Association of Young Children since 1975.

Sherilynn was named a Master Leader by Child Care Information Exchange, is a recipient of The Cecil B. Moore Leadership Award, of the Leadership Institute of The Urban League of Philadelphia, Phi Beta Kappa Early Childhood Excellence Award, Career Wardrobe Leadership Award, The Education Fund Gimper Award, Kappa Alpha Psi Humanitarian Award, Pennsylvania Child Care Association 2002 Award of Excellence and the Judith Rodin Community Education Award, University of Pennsylvania. She is married to Reggie Kimble and they have one son.

Lola M. Grove-Rooney, born in Hartwell, Georgia and raised by a Mother who taught in one of the infamous ‘one room’ schoolhouses, is a dedicated and passionate woman who has spent over 50 years in the educational field. She bears the distinction of having been part of one of the last ‘A/B’ classes from the then William High School for Girls in the School District of Philadelphia in January, 1965 and a recipient of a full scholarship to ‘Cheyney State College’ under the last Dr. Ruth Hayre’s “Wings” Scholars program.

She holds a B.S. from Cheyney in Elem. Ed. with an added concentration in ECE and a M.Ed. +30 from Temple University, with an emphasis in Reading and English. Also an AA in Accounting from CCP.

Mrs. Rooney was a Master Teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for 25 yrs. and one of the three founding teachers of the Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP) under the leadership of Rita Brown. GAMP continues to flourish today, and is housed at 22nd & Ritner Streets in South Philadelphia, was recently featured in the Tribune Newspaper.

Mrs. Rooney is currently employed by the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA association, serving children and families throughout the Delaware Valley region in Berks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. In January of 2017, she was promoted to Senior Director of Child Care Compliance, ensuring the legal and ethical integrity of the Association’s programs – which include Early Childhood Education, School-age Child Care, a Family Child Care Network, Keystone STARS, PreK Counts, and most recently Philly PreK. She has been with the Association for 25 yrs., starting as the Director of the Family Child Care Network and evolving into her present position. On the Y’s behalf and through advocacy, she continues to serve on Y-USA Advisory/Think Tank Committees and number of regional and state committees and is a PQAS certified trainer.

As a volunteer, Mrs. Rooney is the current Affiliate Chapter President of NBCDI (National Black Child Development Institute) having led the chapter since its chartering in 2007. She is passionate about the work of NBCDI from its Literacy Initiatives and on to its fight against Childhood Obesity; affecting change through offering ‘Good for Me’ curriculum training to young children and ‘Grow Green, Get Fit’ to Kindergarteners and school-agers.

She is the mother of 4 children – 3 girls and 1 boy – graduates of Temple University, Columbia University, Gwynedd Mercy. They are working in the health field, social services and her son is currently a vice principal for Universal Charter schools. She has 8 grand children, 5 of whom had their start in YMCA family child care homes. She is also an Ordained Minister.

She is equally passionate about DVAEYC – because it lines up with her guiding mantra – “Children learn what they live, and then they live as they’ve learned.”

DVAEYC ensures that there will always be leaders and teachers who will see that they (the children) learn to live the right way – thus ensuring the Future!