May 31, 2005 > Kidango
by Robin Michel
In 1979, one of the few center-based childcare and early education options in the Tri-Cities was located in Fremont at the Rix Center, formerly an elementary school. Then operating under the name Tri-City Children's Centers, Kidango, a private non-profit organization, served 90 children.
Today, Kidango operates more than 40 centers in Alameda, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties and serves more than 2800 children and families each day, offering a wide variety of programs to meet the diverse needs of children and families. Kidango's first center in the Fremont Irvington district continues to be an important hub of agency operations, housing the nutrition services department, maintenance, early intervention services (including occupational, physical and speech therapists, and developmental specialists), and infant, toddler and preschool classrooms. Administrative offices are located in Fremont's Centerville district.
"Our mission has been and always will be helping children and family," said Executive Director Paul Miller. "As the need for quality childcare has increased - and research continues to point out how critical the early years in a child's life are - we have increased our services to meet the demand and to provide children and families with optimal early childhood experiences and critical supports."
The critical support Kidango offers include a myriad of programs and services for children and families - center-based early care and education, early intervention services, part-day preschool, a teen parent program, school age program, Early Head Start and Head Start, mental health services, and parent education.
Miller is modest about his role as executive director. He credits staff and board members for the pivotal roles many have played in Kidango's growth and expansion through the years, especially Nancy O'Rourke, Director of Special Projects. O'Rourke, then interim executive director for Agency for Infant Development (AID), and Miller joined forces in 1994, when AID and Tri-City Children's Centers merged in a mock wedding ceremony, when then Mayor Gus Morrison gave the "Bride" (AID) away. This union is still going strong; O'Rourke is in charge of fund development for Kidango, which includes grant writing and state and federal contracts and applications.
"Nancy is very gifted at pulling in additional resources and staff members in order to leverage our funding opportunities," said Miller. "She is always looking at what is going to provide the best services to children and families."
Miller said that the management team responsible for carrying out board policies, overseeing daily operations, and making staff recommendations include licensed psychologist and Deputy Director Deborah Turner; Karen Baas, Director of Early Intervention Services; Kate Breitzman, Director of Facilities and Operations; Kristi Cravalho, Director of Finance; Rose Juarez, Director of Education; Julie Kurtz, Director of Mental Health Services; and Tom Perez, Director of Human Resources.
"Kidango has over 350 employees," added Miller. "We have dedicated and committed regional and center directors, teaching staff, maintenance, food service and administrative staff-all playing an integral part in making sure our families and children receive the best quality program possible."
Miller also credits the Kidango Board of Directors, past and present, and countless volunteers who have worked on Kidango's annual Taster's Showcase. "I have made deep friendships through the years as we all work to improve the community and lives of children," said Miller.
He added that this year's Taster's Showcase brought in more than $55,000 for Kidango's Nutrition Program, which provides breakfast, lunch and snacks geared to each child's developing needs accommodating special dietary requirements.
Many in the Tri-Cities community credit Miller's vision and leadership as the catalyst for taking Kidango from its modest beginnings to the complex and multi-layered program now recognized as one of the largest providers of childcare in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Paul has an innate ability to see opportunities where others don't," said Kidango Board President and City of Fremont Planning Commissioner Bill Harrison. "In the 10 years that I have been on the board, there has been a tremendous increase in the need for childcare. Paul has been able to fill that need. He continuously focuses on providing quality childcare and early education experiences, and family supports, always increasing awareness among politicians, business leaders, and the community."
Harrison added that Miller's 25 years of experience in childcare and non-profit organizations makes him a valuable community resource. "Paul's depth of knowledge and his willingness to share his expertise with others in the non-profit world make him highly valued and respected."
Recent evidence of Miller's ability to seize new opportunities and offer quality programs for children is readily apparent in Union City, where Kidango operates a preschool program on every New Haven Unified School District (NHUSD) campus. Building on a 20 year relationship with NHUSD, the school district and Kidango launched a Preschool for All program beginning in 2001. By the following year, Union City had the distinction of being the first district in the state of California to offer Preschool for All.
Kidango serves the New Haven community with a total of 11 centers on eight elementary school campuses, one at James Logan High School and two centers on the adult school campus. Three centers are full day programs serving 78 preschoolers and 49 infants and toddlers. The remaining centers are part-day preschools serving 521 children in either a morning or afternoon session.
About 80 percent of the children are from low-income families and receive either partial or full scholarships from the California Department of Education. The rest of the families pay the full fee.
The flagship New Haven-Kidango Preschool for All program has caught the attention of educators and policymakers throughout the state, including preschool advocate filmmaker Rob Reiner, who is spearheading a Preschool for All Initiative for the June 2006 ballot.
"There is growing concern that children from middle income families are not able to participate in preschool for all programs due to the eligibility levels and low reimbursement rate from the state," said Miller. "The Reiner Initiative addresses these inequities."
Miller added that brain development research underscores the importance of providing quality care and early educational opportunities. "Research reinforces what many parents already instinctively know: preschool is critical for their child's later success in school and beyond."
When asked how Kidango has handled the rapid growth and how it might impact quality, Miller stressed that the Kidango Board and the agency directors are constantly re-evaluating and monitoring quality through a variety of methods, including accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Founded in 1926, NAEYC is the world's largest organization working on behalf of young children with more than 100,000 members, a national network of nearly 450 local, state, and regional affiliates, and a growing global alliance of like-minded organizations. According to Child Care Information Exchange, only 3.44 percent of centers in California are accredited by NAEYC, but more than a third of Kidango's eligible centers have received accreditation, with others in various stages of the accreditation process.
"Continuous quality improvement, staying abreast of the most current research, deepening relationships with the community and other non-profits dedicated to helping children and families, and listening to what children and families say they need," said Miller, "This is how Kidango fulfills its commitment to children and families."
For more information about Kidango, please visit their website at www.kidango.org.
Robin Michel is a freelance writer who also works full time for Kidango. "I wanted to work for Kidango because I have admired how this non profit operates on a strong business model without ever losing sight of its commitment to children and community."