FPG's Technical Assistance Division welcomes new lead
In August, Sherri Britt Williams, MPH, took the reins as lead of UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute’s (FPG’s) Technical Assistance (TA) Division, after spending three months as co-lead with her predecessor, Christina Kasprzak, PhD. In addition to her leadership role, Williams also serves as the principal investigator and director of the NC Early Learning Network (NC-ELN) project. She is also a technical assistance specialist and serves on the leadership team for the Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center.
The TA Division supports FPG’s mission by building capacity to create high-quality systems that result in positive outcomes for young children and their families. “Our division applies and incorporates what we know from research and implementation and improvement science to support the early care and education field,” says Williams. “We’re also constantly developing new knowledge for the field to support early childhood system components that in turn support inclusive settings for children.”
Williams says that her involvement with the division will inform her leadership. “Technical assistance support is all about collaboration and coordination using research and evaluation to inform policy and practice, build capacity, and facilitate change,” she says. “All of those components are also key for successful leadership of the division. We’ll continue to collaborate and coordinate across TA projects and across the Institute’s divisions to build the capacity of our staff to successfully provide leadership and TA support.”
Another critical component of her leadership agenda is addressing issues of equity and facilitating positive change in both the TA Division and in the division’s TA work in the field. “The work we do, whether it’s specific to TA or in the broader context of FPG, is about impacting the field on national and international levels to improve outcomes for young children and their families, especially those children and families who have historically experienced less than optimal outcomes due to systemic inequities,” says Williams. “So I plan to leverage those TA skills and principles and my experience in that work to provide effective division leadership centered on equity.”
While they shared the leadership role, Williams and Kasprzak assessed the needs and priorities for the TA Division using input and feedback from division meeting participants and FPG leadership. “I will use that data to inform the content and discussions for TA Division meetings,” Williams says. “We have been very intentional over the past couple of years to make those meetings relevant and meaningful for participants and their current work. We leave space for discussion and sharing about current and potential TA project work as well as funding, tools, and studies in our field.”
“I want us to continue to think about how to apply that knowledge and those resources to our work as we provide technical assistance for systems capacity building in early childhood with an emphasis on supporting young children with disabilities and their families,” she says.
Williams takes over as TA Division head as her colleague Caryn Ward, PhD, takes the helm of the Implementation Division. The two leaders have been meeting and coming up with ideas for joint division work. “The TA Division is partnering with the Implementation Division to hold regular joint division meetings since TA’s work to support state systems frequently includes implementation support,” says Williams. “The work in both divisions can often intersect and be complementary.” Williams says that she looks forward to partnering with Ward to provide leadership for joint TA/implementation science division meetings and creating a space for professionals from the two divisions to network and share ideas, expertise, and tools and collaborate on efforts to impact the early childhood field.
Williams is excited about the projects TA Division colleagues are working on, noting that with 45 to 50 staff members participating in TA projects, there are always a variety of initiatives and projects evolving. “We continue to bring in funding and we have grown quite a bit over the past year, increasing our staff by about 20 to 25 percent,” she says. “We have added staff to make our workforce more racially and culturally diverse because we know that more diverse perspectives and experiences lead to new and better ideas that are more informed and relevant.”
The TA Division is in the process of developing new proposals for work focusing on topics including inclusion, equity, systems capacity building, and support of early childhood cross-sector collaboration.
This year marks 50 years of TA at FPG. “Participating in the event planning to celebrate that achievement has reinforced my commitment and vision to maintain the quality of work we are doing and to explore innovative ways to continue to meaningfully impact the field of early childhood,” says Williams. “This requires collaboration across the divisions at FPG and also with other early childhood cross sector partners and agencies nationally and internationally.”
“I believe it also requires a commitment to hire and retain racially diverse staff and continued work among our staff to identify and address inequities within our own work environment, which is also part of the work we do with our clients,” she says. “Everything that we do embeds diversity, equity, and inclusion because we know in order to develop high quality systems that support children and families, equity must be considered and pursued.”
“Our TA Division and FPG as a whole have significantly contributed to the field of early childhood on a global scale,” says Williams. “I want to continue to impact and improve the field by mentoring and recruiting new leaders who will bring diverse fresh perspectives and experiences that give us a better understanding of the needs of the field. They will also help us continue to address systemic issues that create barriers and inequities for children and families.”