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Dr. Marijata Daniel-Echols


Parent Empowerment Program (PEP)

30000 Hiveley Road
Inkster, Michigan 48141
With a background in research, policy, and evaluation in the early childhood education arena, Starfish Family Services’ new vice president of early childhood policy and programs, Dr. Marijata Daniel-Echols, has learned to welcome progress in large or small doses. She brings a wealth of expertise and experience to the Inkster-based private nonprofit in hopes of improving life outcomes for vulnerable children.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you? 
Vice President of Early Childhood Policy and Programs Dr. Marijata Daniel-Echols: I do not expect to know or be able to do everything, but I do have to be able to assemble a team that draws upon each members’ strengths and skill sets. I also have to be constantly seeking new knowledge and ideas since part of my job is to encourage the team to be innovative and forward looking. I think that leadership also means being an advocate for my staff – both within and outside of my organization. For example, by highlighting their achievements, providing opportunities for them to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities, and helping them move on to other jobs as their personal and professional lives evolve. I strive to be a credible, knowledgeable, and honest advocate for the causes or projects that I take on. 
What is your dream for kids?
That every child has a safe and healthy home, neighborhood, and community in which they are able to develop a love of
Some of the problems we are trying to ameliorate are big and complex and would benefit from truly coordinated efforts.
learning as critical, curious, creative thinkers. 
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Funding is always an issue for nonprofit organizations. The phrase ‘no money, no mission’ is one that many of us are familiar with. Unfortunately, in their constant quest for philanthropic dollars and competitive contracts, agencies sometimes find themselves in another conundrum when they pursue small and large pots of dollars to implement programs and agendas that matter to the funder but are only tangentially, or not at all, related to the organization’s mission.
I do not have access to a magical pot of gold to distribute, but I do think that increased collaboration between groups is one way to maximize the resources that individual organizations have. Some of the problems we are trying to ameliorate are big and complex and would benefit from truly coordinated efforts.  I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the Collective Impact approach and how it can be used to effectively pursue ambitious, but underfunded goals like school readiness for all vulnerable children. 
How do you know you’re making progress?
I have learned that it is easier to be able to keep moving forward when I am willing to accept measures of progress that are both big and small, easy and hard. For example, sometimes I define progress as reaching the low hanging fruit, since that is all time and/or resources will allow. At other times I think about progress as achieving difficult things that take time – a measurable improvement in the quality of services being delivered or a surge in the national understanding of the importance of early childhood education. While it may seem strange to some people, I do think that sometimes making progress can be defined not as moving forward but as being able to maintain one’s current position. For example, many
For children at risk for school failure, preschool is more effective when paired with services that acknowledge and address the economic, educational, physical, and mental health needs of their families and caregivers.
families have faced incredible hardships over the past several years of our country’s economic downturn. To be able to help people stay whole, to not slip even deeper into poverty, through services and supports that help them make progress on a personal level is a meaningful accomplishment. 
What are you most proud of?
I come from a long line of leaders and activists. In particular, grandparents and parents who were and are respected members of their church and professional communities, as well as their social and political circles. They were and are outspoken, knowledgeable, and wise people. They all modeled for me a commitment to bettering themselves and their community as a whole. I am very proud of the fact that throughout my career I have been able to continue our family legacy of excellence and service. 
After such a long history in programming, education and research around early childhood issues, what are the most significant barriers remaining in making sure every child has an equal chance for success?
Anyone who has spent time talking to me on this issue has heard me say this many times: early childhood education is not a silver bullet. High-quality early childhood care and education programs are foundational to building citizens that succeed in school and in life. However, they must be connected to a P-20 [preschool to graduate school] system of care and education focused on shared and innovative best practice. We cannot continue to send bright and shiny five year olds out of developmentally appropriate preschool programs into underperforming schools systems and then wring our hands when down the road those children are no longer sparkling.
For children at risk for school failure, preschool is more effective when paired with services that acknowledge and address the economic, educational, physical, and mental health needs of their families and caregivers. Children exist within families, neighborhoods, and communities that have a wide variety of strengths and challenges. We must think or our early childhood work as one important building block in a comprehensive strategy focused on every child having the opportunity to achieve at the highest levels of their abilities.
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