THE FINAL RAISING OF FORT WORTH: Quality Early Ed: Impacting Today, Influencing Tomorrow


The Raising of Fort Worth 2018 theme, “Strong Beginnings for a Brighter Future,” concluded on October 18th with a nationally renowned panel of early education policy, research, business, and school leadership experts, including:

  • Ross Thompson, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of California at Davis

    • Studies early parent-child relationships, and children’s emotion regulation, conscience development, and growth of self-understanding.

    • Recently examined how early parent-child conversation shapes young children’s developing understanding of emotion, morality, and self.

  • Albert Wat, Senior Policy Director, Alliance for Early Success

    • Experienced in literacy and social-emotional development, pre-K access and quality, learning standards, and data systems.

    • Studies alignment between early learning policies and practices, especially in the early elementary years.

  • Ken Ross, Communications Executive, Lockheed Martin

    • Site communications lead for the 14,000-employee plant in Fort Worth.

    • Employee communications lead for 26,000-employee Aeronautics business, which includes media relation, investor relations, labor relations, leader engagement and community outreach.

  • Matthew PortellPrincipal, Fall-Hamilton

    • Principal at an award-winning Nashville community school integrating pre-K through 4th grade social emotional curriculum, trauma-informed practices, and community supports.

Special guest Evan Smith from The Texas Tribune moderated the session.  All of the panelist bios are available here.

Opening from Brandom Gengelbach, Executive VP of Economic Development for The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce

Brandom Gengelbach opened the breakfast event by acknowledging the importance of early childhood education as the backbone of a strong city and economy – and pledged the Chamber’s support in rallying the business community around quality early learning and child care.

“We cannot simply preach to the choir [other early childhood advocates] – the business community needs to understand and invest in this issue. The Chamber is committed to engaging business leaders to become part of the solution to ensure every child has access to quality early learning – and every working family has access to quality child care.”

The Chamber is committed to engaging business leaders to become part of the solution to ensure every child has access to quality early learning – and every working family has access to quality child care.
— Brandom Gengelbach, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce

The Raising of Fort Worth panelists brought deep and diverse expertise to the October 18th discussion, which centered on how communities, schools, and families specifically can support the transition from early childhood to elementary school.  Following are key highlights from each of the panelists.

  • BRIDGING GAPS ALONG THE PK-3rd CONTINUUM: Albert Wat articulated the importance of creating continuity of practices and philosophy between pre-K and the early grades (Kindergarten – 3rd).  He noted that states that do this well sometimes integrate the training and professional development of teachers from pre-K and the early grades. Others have a standalone Office of Early Education at the state level, which can help elevate the importance and priorities of quality early learning across communities. Regardless, Albert emphasized that instead of focusing on bringing K-12 curriculum down to the pre-K classrooms, the opposite approach may be more beneficial.  The social emotional practices that are a central focus in pre-K classrooms could be equally impactful if continued in the K-12 space.

We need to look at pushing up best practices from early education to the K-12 system. Social emotional strategies and other philosophies between these two systems need to be aligned.
— Albert Wat, Alliance for Early Success
  • DUAL-GENERATION APPROACHES TO STRESS & ADVERSITY: Dr. Ross Thompson shared the importance of addressing the needs not just of young children, but also of parents and early childhood teachers when considering the impacts of trauma and stress. Many teachers in the early childhood profession have experienced trauma themselves, and others need supports to be able to adequately process and respond to young children who are exhibiting behaviors attributable to stress and adversity. In order to truly mitigate or even reverse the effects of trauma for a child, we must also respect and address those same effects experienced by the adults who are influencing and interacting with young children on a daily basis.

We must use a dual-generation approach to help both parents and children, particularly those in poverty, to treat those experiences of toxic stress and trauma.
— Dr. Ross Thompson, University of California, Davis
  • INTEGRATING SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING INTO THE FABRIC OF CURRICULUM: Mathew Portell shared personal lessons learned from his role as Principal of Fall-Hamilton community school in Nashville, TN serving grades Pre-K through 4. With the majority of his students living in poverty, Mathew adopted trauma-informed training and practices for all of his teachers, and hired a Behavioral Therapist to be located on-site to be available to students, parents, and teachers.  He integrates social emotional skill building as a part of – not a separate “tack-on” accompaniment to – the school’s academic curriculum. Mathew shared that by being transparent with families about the school’s trauma-informed approach, he and his staff have built trusting and strong relationships with the school’s families, who are more eager to share about their family’s needs and challenges. A Family Resource Center helps connect parents to key partners and services in the community.

We need a paradigm shift in how we work with students. Social emotional learning should be integrated with academic learning – not treated as a separate piece of the curriculum.
— Mathew Portell, Fall-Hamilton
  • BUSINESSES OFFER HOPE & RELEVANCY: Lockheed Martin executive Ken Ross suggested that businesses have a huge opportunity to connect with students at a young age and help them clarify their vision for success.  At Lockheed Martin through Project Lead the Way and other STEM curriculum, students have been able to articulate what type of engineer they hope to be when they grow up (e.g., chemical, mechanical, etc.).  Ken asked the audience, “How many of us when we were in 3rd grade could differentiate between professions with that level of granularity?” Ken’s perspective in his work with Lockheed Martin and the Fort Worth ISD Education Foundation is that every little bit of involvement from the business community helps. He stated that businesses are the ones who can begin inspiring students to have a broader vision for their life, and to connect what they are learning with real-world skills and employment opportunities in their future.

Businesses can offer relevancy to what children are learning in the classroom. At a very early age, we can bring hope and inspiration to a child to achieve something that perhaps they had never envisioned before.
— Ken Ross, Lockheed Martin

Since 2015, the Raising of Fort Worth has served as a community forum highlighting national early learning best practices, lifting up local bright spots, and maintaining cross-sector momentum and engagement to provide every child with a strong start. This community believes that quality early education is a key success factor in building a Fort Worth where every child, family, employee, and business can thrive – today, and far into the future.  And this community is working every day to bring that vision into reality.

As we close 2018 and move into the next year, we will be visiting with key stakeholders to learn how Raising of Fort Worth may continue to evolve to stay relevant and best serve the needs of our community.  If you have feedback or comments you would like to share with the Raising of Fort Worth Planning Committee, please contact Sadie Funk at First3Years or Sara Redington at The Miles Foundation.

Thank you to all of our partners who have been engaged in the Raising of Fort Worth effort over the last four years.  We are honored to be a part of this critical conversation and look forward to our ongoing collective effort to ensure a bright future for Fort Worth.

For information on past events and other resources, visit

Sara Redington