Innovative Firms Partner to Bring Executive Function to Selected Head Start Programs

-- Press Release – 

Acelero Learning, Reflection Sciences and Venn Foundation are collaborating to introduce Executive Function measurement and interventions within select Head Start campuses

 New York, NY (September 20, 2018) – In a unique three-way partnership unveiled today, Acelero Learning will deploy Reflection Sciences’ Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFS™ App) within their network of Head Start programs.  Venn Foundation will provide the initial proceeds to support the roll-out with funds provided through a Program-Related Investment (PRI).

 Through this collaboration, Acelero Learning will be able to track the development of executive function (EF) skills over the course of the early childhood years. EF, often referred to as the “air traffic control” system of the brain, describes the set of skills required for impulse control in children. These skills are predictive of not only school-readiness and academic success, but also social-emotional functioning, career achievement, and mental and physical health. Acelero Learning will capture growth in EF using Reflection Sciences’ Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFSTM App). The MEFSTM app is a scientifically valid and reliable game-like measure of EF for children as young as 2 years through the lifespan.  Acelero Learning currently instructs over 5,000 children through their nationwide network of Head Start programs.

 “We see in our classrooms every day that being ready for school is about more than reading and math.  We need children to enter kindergarten prepared to learn in fundamental ways we could never have measured in the past, and we are hopeful that the implementation of the innovative MEFS™ assessment and related training will provide us new tools to improve child outcomes,” says Melissa Field, Chief Program Officer of Acelero Learning. “It is crucial that teachers and families have accurate, useful data to facilitate lesson planning and determine opportunities to support children individually. Our partnership with Reflection Sciences will complement our ongoing focus to improve the use of data in supporting school readiness for each of our Head Start and Early Head Start children, and we hope to extend what we learn from this collaboration throughout our network over time.”

Initial funding provided by Venn Foundation will allow Acelero Learning and Reflection Sciences to train targeted Acelero educators on the MEFS™ assessment, test as many as 500 children in 2018, plan for initial interventions that the companies will produce together and evaluate this initial implementation.  Future funding will stretch the MEFS assessment and training to all 5,000+ children in the Acelero Learning network and allow both organizations to refine and improve an intervention curriculum.

Dr. Stephanie Carlson, Reflection Sciences’ Co-founder and Chief Science Officer, adds, “We have always admired the mission of Acelero Learning and the important work they do around early childhood education and the achievement gap.  With this partnership, we aim to make our unique MEFS™ assessment and intervention strategies meet the needs of children and teachers in Head Start settings.”

Added Jeff Ochs, President and CEO of Venn Foundation. “Program-Related Investments are powerful because they can provide catalytic capital to any organization, whether non-profit or for-profit, that is willing to take on a challenging charitable cause.  In this case, we think this charitable effort will also be good for business for both for-profit Acelero Learning and Reflection Sciences, which in turn should help them to scale our desired charitable impact.”

Ultimately, all three organizations hope their findings will inform public policy efforts and decisions regarding opportunities and challenges facing early childhood education and specifically the Head Start network.

Acelero Learning is a pioneering provider of early childhood education and family engagement services, all of which are focused on closing the achievement gap for thousands of Head Start children and families across the country.  Today, Acelero Learning directly serves 5,000 children and families in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin and through its Shine Early Learning network, works closely with more than 35 Head Start programs around the country.

 Founded by University of Minnesota Professors Dr. Stephanie M. Carlson and Dr. Phil Zelazo in the College of Education & Human Development’s Institute of Child Development, Reflection Sciences provides professional development, training, and tools for assessing and improving Executive Function skills. Their Minnesota Executive Function Scale is the first objective, scientifically-based, and normed direct assessment of executive function for ages 2 years and up.

 Venn Foundation is a nonprofit public charity on a mission to unleash the full power of Program-Related Investments (PRIs) to achieve charitable impact.  By opening a special donor-advised fund called a Venn Account, any philanthropic individual or entity can recommend that their tax-advantaged, charitable donations be used by Venn to make PRIs.  Venn can syndicate any one PRI among any combination of Venn Accounts.  Financial returns from these PRIs go back to participating Venn Accounts for donors to recommend redeployment into new PRIs or grants.

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Acelero Learning Selected as an Early Childhood Innovation Prize Winner

15 Top Ideas will share in $1 million in funding from Gary Community Investments

May 23, 2018:

Acelero Learning was recently recognized as one of Gary Community Investments’ Early Childhood Innovation Prize winners, because of its potential to create breakthrough impact for young children. As one of only 15 winners selected from more than 570 applications from innovators in 100 countries through OpenIDEO’s prize platform, Acelero Learning will share in $1 million in prize funding from Gary Community Investments (GCI) to help accelerate our impact.

Acelero Learning’s idea is a next generation, adaptive child assessment system, designed to leverage the best thinking in the field to create a single, unified tool for teachers to better individualize teaching and learning for children.  The intention is to harness current research, leading technology, and human-centered design to make assessment, including language, early math, and executive function, easy for educators, intuitive for families, and fun for young children and toddlers. Next Assess will be an adaptive assessment system that provides actionable intel on child development in a flash in order to drive instruction and intervention, inform families and supporters, and fuel program innovation. Most importantly, Next Assess will bridge the divide between data and action, offering educators and families just right next steps to propel each child’s individual development to catalyze community efforts to close the achievement gap.

Launched in fall 2017 as part of GCI’s multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment to catalyzing early childhood innovation, the Prize brought together hundreds of innovators and experts from across the globe to collaboratively solve the question: How might we maximize every child’s potential during their first three years? As part of the Prize process, 217 participating innovators received mentorship from 135 experts in early childhood and other fields, helping to strengthen their concepts before they were submitted.

"The Early Childhood Innovation Prize tapped into the brainpower of thinkers from diverse backgrounds who were willing to offer ideas that are novel to the space, or more effective, efficient or scalable than current ones,” says Steffanie Clothier, Gary Community Investments’ child development investment director. “We are thrilled to recognize Next Assess as one of the Prize’s Top Ideas because we believe in its potential for creating transformative impact for young children.”  

"Being chosen as one of the Early Childhood Innovation Prize’s Top Ideas will allow us to accelerate our work with leading experts in early childhood education and the development of the next generation of child assessment, get breakthrough solutions to educators sooner, and take the next steps toward true individualized learning,” says Henry Wilde, CEO of Acelero Learning. “In addition, we look forward to continuing to collaborate with and learn from the community that came together during the Prize process.”

The Prize’s 15 Top Ideas include solutions that focus on three opportunity areas: improving children’s earliest experiences so they are healthy and constructive; supporting parents and families in giving children the best start possible; and leveraging neighborhoods and communities to design neighborhoods and communities with very young children and their families in mind. Ideas that fell outside of these areas but were particularly novel were also considered. The winning solutions include ideas from new innovators with early concepts in development, early stage innovators with at least one-year prototyping experience, and advanced innovators with more than three years’ experience. More information on the Prize and all of the Top Idea winners is available here.

To continue the momentum generated during the Prize, GCI and OpenIDEO are in the process of designing an early childhood innovation network that will accelerate compelling ideas that emerged through the Prize through access to mentors, experts and investors and facilitate continued collaboration around solving early childhood challenges.

Acelero Learning profiled by Bellwether Education Partners' in New Report on coaching in early childhood Education

Acelero Learning profiled by Bellwether Education Partners' in New Report on coaching in early childhood Education

Acelero Learning is honored to be featured as one of several programs profiled by Bellwether Education Partners' new report on coaching in early childhood education. The report, published on the tenth anniversary of the 2007 re-authorization of Head Start, focuses on how teacher coaching has been implemented in a variety of different programs across the country.

The new Head Start Program Performance Standards place a heavy emphasis on coaching and ongoing professional development for teaching staff. Coaching has also been an area of particular interest at Acelero Learning. Through years of research, innovation and ongoing quality-focused initiatives across the program, we have developed a robust, evidence-based coaching model that supports teachers and coaches alike.

The Bellwether report describes how this model works in practice at our Camden / Philadelphia local program, and some of the key takeaways that our education team has discovered as this system has been developed, refined and implemented at a diverse set of delegate programs across the country. 

Henry Wilde, CEO and co-founder of Acelero Learning, is enthusiastic about the report. "Coaching is an integral part of our approach to early education, and based on our research, it has been one of the key drivers that helps to support positive outcomes for children in Head Start and Early Head Start," he notes. "We are honored to have been profiled Bellwether report, and particularly for our Camden/Philadelphia program to have the opportunity to share their work. It is important for both policymakers and practitioners to be actively engaged in learning about how coaching initiatives are rolling out on the ground, and this report helps to illustrate both the work that goes into these initiatives as well as the deep thinking and analysis that we always go back to in order to make them better."

To read our profile in Primetime for Coaching - Improving Instructional Coaching in Early Childhood Education click here.

To learn more about Acelero Learning, please contact Katherine Molina-Powell at katherine@acelero.net.

Acelero Learning programs win $34.4 million in Early Head Start funding across four states

Acelero Learning has been awarded $34.4 million in federal Early Head Start expansion and partnership funding over the next five years to expand services to infants and toddlers across four states, with the expansions planned to go into effect over the course of the summer and fall. The organization is headquartered in New York City, and the new services will be provided through delegate and partner programs in Milwaukee and Racine in Wisconsin; Camden, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Clark County, Nevada. Combined, these new grants will bring free, high quality, comprehensive, full-day child care to an additional 340 children across the country.

Acelero Learning C.E.O. and co-founder Henry Wilde praised the impact that these grants will have on local communities. “We are thrilled for the children, families, and communities who will have access to additional high quality child care options for infants and toddlers – and deeply grateful to Congress and the Office of Head Start for allotting these resources.  All parents should be able to go work knowing that their children and safe and well cared for, and given how difficult it is for low income parents to afford high quality care in this country, this Early Head Start investment is absolutely life-changing.”

The awards are part of a nationwide effort from the Office of Head Start to expand and enhance services for infants and toddlers across the nation.  In 2016, organizations from across the country competed for $135 million in total annual Federal funding to support expanded Early Head Start services.  Acelero Learning programs have been nationally recognized for innovation and excellence, and the expansion funding – which was among the largest grants in the country – will allow the program to serve additional families with center-based, full-day, safe and high-quality care.

Local and national leaders agreed on the importance of Acelero Learning’s expansion to serve additional low income children.  “Acelero Learning exemplifies Head Start and Early Head Start's role as the nation's laboratory for early childhood innovation,” said Yasmina Vinci, National Head Start Association (NHSA) Executive Director. “They are problem solvers, they have generated tremendous child outcome gains, and they recognize the need to expand infant and toddler options for low income children.  I am delighted that they will be serving more children through Early Head Start expansion."

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Early Head Start is a federal program providing early education and comprehensive services including health, nutrition, mental health and oral health services to low-income and vulnerable families with children from birth to three years old, as well as pregnant women.  As of 2016, the program served more than 147,000 children nationally – a number that should increase notably this year as a result of the new awards to programs around the nation.  Said Rhian Evans Allvin, the CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, "This is one of the most important investments we can make as a nation.  With this in mind, I am thrilled that Acelero Learning has the opportunity to serve additional children through Early Head Start expansion."

Acelero Learning Head Start parent and Policy Council chair Amy Rucker agrees: “Families will have the benefit of attending EHS and HS in one safe location. At these schools they will receive structure and consistency to develop and to meet goals. This will be huge for our community.” 

To learn more about Acelero Learning and the Early Head Start awards, please contact Katherine Molina-Powell at katherine@acelero.net.

Acelero Learning Wisconsin Rates Among Top 10% of Head Start Programs

Acelero Learning Wisconsin, which began providing Head Start services in 2013, was notified by the Office of Head Start that its Milwaukee program scored in the top 10% of Head Start programs nationwide in Instructional Support, a key indicator of quality education for young children.  This was determined by an independent team of reviewers from the Office of Head Start (at the US Department of Health and Human Services), who observed every classroom in Milwaukee, using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System™ (CLASS) tool.  Positive scores on Instruction Support in the CLASS have been shown by researchers to be directly correlated to positive child outcomes for children.  CLASS reviews are conducted by a team of classroom observers, employed by the Federal Government, on every Head Start program in the country.

Dr. Earnestine Willis, the founding Board Chair of Acelero Learning Wisconsin, recognized the importance of this result for Milwaukee's children.  "I sincerely appreciate the hard work and dedication that the staff and parents of Acelero Learning Wisconsin have done to culminate in these outstanding federal reviews.  These are critical contributions to our future as a community, championing early childhood development."

Please see the full press release here.

Acelero Learning Clark County Children's Day Kickoff

Today was the official kick-off for Children's Day and the celebration started in Las Vegas at Acelero Learning Clark County's Reach Out Center with Nevada's First Lady Kathleen Sandoval and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. Both expressed their passion and advocacy for children around the world and especially for the Head Start and Strong Start programs. This event was sponsored by the United Way Program and their campaign "Be a Champion for Children."

Acelero Learning Co-Founder & COO Henry Wilde to Become Next CEO

Co-Founder & CEO Aaron Lieberman to become Executive Chair of the Board; CAO Doug Whiteman to add the role of President

Acelero Learning announced today that Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Henry Wilde will become the organization’s next Chief Executive Officer (CEO). In the last two years, while Mr. Wilde served as COO, he led the organization through three successful federal reviews; generated year-over-year child outcome increases, including some of the largest gains ever recorded in a Head Start program; and launched the company’s new Shine Implement outsourced Head Start leadership division. Shine Implement has rapidly expanded and will serve over 1,700 young children in Early Head Start and Head Start programs in three different states this coming year. As CEO, he will report directly to the Board of Directors and will hold primary responsibility for strategic development, overall organizational execution, and all programmatic functions.

Current CEO and Co-Founder Aaron Lieberman will transition to the role of Acelero Learning’s Executive Chair of the Board as he relocates to his native Arizona with his wife and two young sons. Doug Whiteman will continue as Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) while assuming greater responsibility for the organization’s external relations and day-to-day operations as President.

“Henry Wilde fully exemplifies our ideal leader for the company: passionate, compassionate, whip-smart, and, above all, intensely motivated by our mission to do good in the world,” said Mr. Lieberman. “He has not just risen to every challenge -- he has soared over them, and I know he will continue to do so.”

Aaron Lieberman and Henry Wilde co-founded Acelero Learning in 2001 with a vision to develop and manage the highest-quality Head Start programs nationwide. Since Acelero Learning’s inception, Mr. Wilde has served as Executive Director of two Acelero Learning delegate locations, as a member of the Board, and as COO. Previously, he was the first Deputy Secretary of the Department of Children and Families for the State of Wisconsin, where he oversaw the Head Start State Collaboration Office, the child care subsidy program, child care licensing, and the creation of Youngstar, the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Mr. Wilde is a graduate of Harvard University, and began his career working as Special Assistant to Marian Wright Edelman at the Children's Defense Fund. He also earned an MBA focused on social enterprise from the Harvard Business School and is an Ascend Fellow and a Pahara Fellow at the Aspen Institute. As COO, Mr. Wilde has overseen all programmatic initiatives and direct Head Start services, as well as the Shine Implement and Shine Assist programs.

Since he joined Acelero Learning as CAO in January 2014, Doug Whiteman has been in charge of all support services including finance, legal, human resources, and compliance functions, as well as for reporting and governance issues. Previously, he served as chair of the Acelero Learning - Monmouth/Middlesex Board of Directors for seven years. In his new role as President and CAO, Mr. Whiteman will add direct oversight of partner recruitment. Prior to joining Acelero Learning, Mr. Whiteman had a 30-year career at Penguin Group Inc., including serving as VP of Sales and then as President of Penguin/Putnam Young Readers.  His work at Penguin culminated in serving as EVP of Operations for the entire company.

“I have known Doug for over 15 years, but the last 18 months of working side by side as he assumed the reigns of Chief Administrative Officer for the company have completely convinced me that he is the perfect person for the President role,” said Mr. Lieberman. “Doug has recruited an amazing senior team for our support services staff, has built a fantastic operating partnership with Henry, and has had a major impact on areas of our business that are outside of his considerable scope with his smarts, good judgment, and vast experience. I have also been so impressed by Doug’s willingness to put the company, and the children we serve, first in every decision he has made.”

As he prepares for this cross-country move, Mr. Lieberman will transition from his current role as CEO of Acelero Learning and Shine Early Learning into his new leadership position as Executive Chair of the Board. In this role, he will continue to oversee and work closely with the Acelero Learning team by chairing and participating in all board meetings; maintaining involvement in sales and investor relations work; and meeting weekly with the CEO and President/CAO. Mr. Lieberman has consulted closely with senior leaders and the Acelero Learning Board in developing this transition plan, and will maintain his strong commitment and dedication to the company from his new home in Arizona.

“Nobody can replace Aaron,” said Mr. Wilde. “His talent, vision, and energy are beyond that of anyone I have met or known -- and it is a testament to him that the team we have built at Acelero Learning and Shine Early Learning reflect all of those attributes. I am confident that our team of leaders will continue to drive innovation and positive child outcomes in our programs and the Head Start programs we serve. I am excited to continue to work with him in his new capacity and to build on the work we have done together for the past 15 years."

“This is both an exciting time as well as a sad one for me,” said Mr. Whiteman. “Aaron Lieberman personally recruited me, first as an Acelero Monmouth County board member, and later as the company’s CAO, and I will greatly miss seeing him on a daily basis. He is a true visionary and an inspiring leader who is unparalleled in his field. At the same time, I know that Henry Wilde is poised to be a phenomenal CEO for this company, and the notion of expanding my partnership with him is incredibly energizing. I look forward to working alongside Henry to continue to expand our reach and make even greater progress as we strive to close the achievement gap for many thousands of children and families.”

Please see the full press release here.

Acelero Learning Receives $4 million Program-Related Investment from the Packard Foundation

Former OHS Director Yvette Sanchez Fuentes joins the board, company poised for future growth in impact and outcomes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, May 19, 2015
New York, New York

Acelero Learning announced today that it has received a $4 million Program-Related Investment loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. “These funds from the Packard Foundation will allow us to complete the re-capitalization process we began last year, providing some liquidity to our initial investors, including Boston Community Capital and Ironwood Capital, while positioning the company to continue our rapid growth,” said Aaron Lieberman, co-founder of Acelero Learning and CEO of Shine Early Learning. “We continue to break new ground – demonstrating that a double bottom line company that produces break through child outcome gains for low-income children and families and can also produce a reasonable returns for investors. In this way, we are providing a desperately needed proof point for the emerging world of impact investing,” concluded Lieberman.

“The funds from the Packard Foundation are important to us on at least two levels,” said Henry Wilde, Acelero Learning’s co-founder and Chief Operating Officer. “First and foremost, this is a major stamp of approval to have a mission-first, philanthropic investor like the Packard Foundation make this type of commitment to the company. Second, these funds will give the company the flexibility to continue to prioritize pursuit of our social impact goals. As a company, we believe that our first duty is to close the achievement gap for low-income children and families served by the Head Start program – and that financial success will follow from breakthrough child outcome gains.” The Packard Foundation joins Acelero Learning’s investor group which includes Ironwood Capital, Boston Community Capital, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, New Profit, NewSchools Venture Fund, and New Jersey Community Capital.

“As an impact-first investor, the return we seek is deep social impact that advances our grantmaking strategies. We are impressed by Acelero Learning’s outcome-focused approach to promoting quality early education and closing the achievement gap for children and families served by the Head Start program,” said Susan Phinney Silver, Program-Related Investment Manager for the Packard Foundation. “Through this loan we are thrilled to support the expansion of Acelero Learning’s promising early childhood education model and services within communities across the country.”

As part of the transaction, the board of Acelero Learning will expand to include two new members: Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the President of the National Alliance for Hispanic Families and former Director of the Office of Head Start, and Georgia Levenson Keohane, the Director of the Program on Profits and Purpose at the New America Foundation. “I have long admired Acelero Learning and I am particularly excited to join the board to help the company spread their innovative practices which we know are so effective,” commented Sanchez Fuentes.

“We are exclusively focused on continuing to generate breakthrough child outcome gains at our own Acelero Learning Head Start programs, while rapidly growing our Shine Assist and Shine Implement efforts where we help others achieve breakthrough gains in their own Head Start programs,” concluded Doug Whiteman, Acelero Learning’s Chief Administrative Officer. “The strong support of the Packard Foundation and our current investor group will allow us to continue to make key investments in further closing the achievement gap, including the transformation of our Shine Insight data system into an enterprise system capable of revolutionizing the way that Head Start services reach hundreds of thousands of low-income children and families.”

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