Nicol Russell: Candidate Statement
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As the current Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood Education at the Arizona Department of Education, it has been my privilege to work on behalf of Arizona’s youngest citizens and their families for six years now. During my time in service of the State, I have had the pleasure of working with individuals from various city, state, and national entities on improving outcomes for all of Arizona’s youngest citizens. I have become adept at building and fostering relationships, effectively communicating our vision for high-quality early learning, and executing a strategic plan that is nimble and responsive to people and conditions in our ever- changing education landscape. I think service on the NAEYC Board would afford an opportunity to capitalize on my education and experience in the field of early childhood education, particularly my strengths as a systems thinker and leader, and implementer of educational programs in the context of what is developmentally appropriate.
I am an experienced education professional with over fifteen years of experience, having worked in different aspects of the field, from classroom teacher to the Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood at Arizona’s state education agency. I have a keen ability to think about leadership with a part-to-whole perspective—thinking and planning globally while paying attention to the details of execution and implementation. In addition to working with other state agencies, I have extensive experience working with non-profit, philanthropic, and for-profit organizations. Additionally, I have had the privilege of serving on various governing boards and committees of some of these organizations. Currently, I am on the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities Community Services and the First Things First Board. My contributions to NAEYC, should I be selected to serve on its governing board, would be in three primary areas: strengthening the B-5 and K-3 connection; authentic leadership; and cultural responsiveness.
In my current work, I oversee the administration of five significant grants, totaling an annual amount of approximately $24 million. This requires budget planning, forecasting, and management. It also requires contract and grants management, particularly ensuring the deliverables of contracts and projects are met on time and according to their respective scopes of work. In this work, I have been positioned to continually link B-5 to K-3 since I serve as both the Head Start State Collaboration Director and the Deputy Associate Superintendent. In all of my work I consider the impact small and large decisions may have on early childhood families and the professionals who serve their social, medical, or educational needs. I have overseen the development of a continuum of early learning documents that includes infant toddler development guidelines and early learning standards for preschool—and have aligned them to K-2 standards for our state. These documents are appropriate for all children, including those with disabilities. I have also provided oversight for the development of professional development modules that accompany the early learning documents, as well as professional development in other topics of interest and importance to early childhood education professionals. Additionally, I have overseen the process for selecting a developmentally appropriate kindergarten entrance assessment, resulting in Arizona’s State Board of Education approving a kindergarten developmental inventory and formative assessment tool for K-3. My team has worked with a statewide implementation team to ensure considerations for varied communities is made, and all stakeholders (including families) are involved.
Additionally, I believe in the power of leading by creating more leaders. Thus, I am continually sharpening my abilities to create highly-engaged and effective teams, leveraging the skills and commitment of my staff to accomplish the strategic goals of our agency and supporting them in their professional growth. I attend local and national professional development events, as well as staying abreast of current research through personal reading of articles. At the root of my leadership style is a commitment to developing relationships within and outside of my organization. I express genuine interest in others, and work to establish commonalities from which to build relationships. Also, I have a sound understanding of the continuous quality improvement process, including planning with intention to successfully implement and sustain an initiative, and have much experience using it in strategic planning efforts.
Lastly, I believe I offer a profound understanding of serving children and families in vulnerable populations. I am the product of a bi-racial marriage between a father who was raised in Birmingham, Alabama at the start of the Civil Rights Movement, and a mother who was first- generation post- annexation of Hawai’i to the United States, who grew up primarily in a single- parent household (my mother died when I was young) in a considerably isolated area of Hawai’i that is made up of mostly Native Hawaiians living in poverty. Thus, I understand on a visceral level the issues of race, ethnicity, culture, language, identity, poverty, assimilation, resistance, access, equity, bias, implicit bias, and the lasting effects of historical trauma. These are issues that many families face and I think I have what it takes to help them see NAEYC as a trusted organization who cares about them, while supporting early childhood professionals in their work with these families.