New early ed chief: use data, take action

By Dillon Mullan
dmullan@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 11/20/19

Elizabeth Groginsky started her career on the other end of the phone from mothers fleeing abusive homes and hearing reports of child neglect. Answering the hotline for a domestic abuse prevention project in Colorado in the 1990s, she heard firsthand how a lack of early support could lead to violent ends down the road.

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New early ed chief: use data, take action

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Elizabeth Groginsky started her career on the other end of the phone from mothers fleeing abusive homes and hearing reports of child neglect. Answering the hotline for a domestic abuse prevention project in Colorado in the 1990s, she heard firsthand how a lack of early support could lead to violent ends down the road.

"Families don't want to abuse their children or each other. Nobody wants to do that," Groginsky said. "Early childhood care is my calling because it's ahead of the curve. It's a chance to work upstream from the problems that surface later in life."

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this month named Groginsky New Mexico's first secretary of early childhood education and care, putting her in charge of an agency to which plenty of capital - both political and monetary- will be expended. From a career managing child care services on a county, state and national level, Groginsky brings a track record of using data points like social competence, emotional maturity, literacy and physical health to evaluate and improve child care services.

Across the state, providers say they hope the new department can align prekindergarten and other early childhood services that coexist across public, private, nonprofit and federal providers with different combinations of funding sources.

"A through line of my work is coming and finding things that are OK and taking them to a new level," Groginsky said. "And that starts with collecting data - using child care centers, kindergarten teachers and pediatricians to screen children - and then asking: What is the prevalence of different developmental issues in different communities and where do we need intervention?"

Groginsky grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and earned a bachelor's degree in criminology from the University of Maryland. Her husband, Scott Groginsky, whom she met in high school and who works as a senior adviser on early childhood issues for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, attended nearby George Washington University. Groginsky also has a master's degree in social sciences from the University of Colorado-Denver.

After starting her career with domestic violence organizations, Groginsky, 53, began working full time in child care services in 2003 when she became the Head Start administrator for Adams County, Colorado.

Groginsky said she inherited six federal Head Start facilities without the licenses required for state funding before creating an early childhood council that combined public school administrators, county commissioners and even the District Attorney's Office. After the county maximized state and federal funding through that collaboration, the Lieutenant Governor's Office hired Groginsky to publish a report on the state of Head Start programs in Colorado.

In 2012, Groginsky returned to the D.C. area to become director of early childhood education for the United Way.

In 2014, Groginsky became assistant superintendent of early learning for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, taking over a division that had been through a handful of leaders since it was created in 2007.

"There were a lot of leaders that were wrong for that position, but for a lot of reasons, she was absolutely right," said BB Otero, a former deputy mayor of health and human services in Washington. "We had a quality rating system. She revamped it. She upgraded it. It's tied to quality beyond just accreditation with standards [that] are all proven."

New Mexico already has an early childhood integrated data system that tracks how many children are being served and where, as well as workforce needs. Groginsky said one of her first tasks will be examining that system.

"We have a huge need for a new and improved data system that helps us look at the actual outcomes," said Katherine Freeman, president of United Way of Santa Fe County. "Right now New Mexico is really good at telling us how many, but we really need to be able to ask the question, 'How are our kids doing?' and use the data to see what's working."

While the new department begins operations on July 1, 2020, on Dec. 2 - her start date -Groginsky will start tracking the data and maximizing funding in order to solve some of the state's problems.

The Colorado native will be back on Mountain time working to help New Mexico move ahead of the curve.

"Once I understood the true impact early childhood care has on a community," Groginsky said, "well, I was hooked at that point."

A longer version of this story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of Taos News.

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