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New $30 million early childhood initiative launches in Forsyth County

Children ages birth to five in one North Carolina county will now have more help and better supports preparing for and succeeding in kindergarten—and beyond.

The Winston-Salem based Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust announced a major new initiative yesterday to improve education and health outcomes for Forsyth County children who enter school unprepared and behind their peers.

Great Expecations logo_FINAL_1

Great Expectations, the Trust’s new decade-long, $30 to $40 million dollar initiative, has set an ambitious goal of helping 90 percent of financially disadvantaged children in the county reach their age-appropriate milestones and build the foundation they need to be successful in both school and life.

“This effort marks the greatest, most significant, most focused effort in our almost 70-year history,” said Trust President Karen McNeil-Miller.

“We look forward to having this community be a beacon for not only the rest of the state, but the rest of the nation for how you develop a system of success for young people.”

Though the kick-off event at Carver School Road Public Library in Winston-Salem had a festive tone, with children from the local community enjoying a balloon artist, interactive readings with library staff, and free books, the urgency of preparing the county’s youngest children for a lifetime of success was not lost on the large number of business and community leaders on hand for the announcement.

According to McNeil-Miller, 2,400 children enter the Forsyth County School System each year behind their peers in developmental milestones.

A 2007 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that investments in early childhood development result in children who “require less special education and are less likely to repeat a grade or need child welfare services.” They are also more likely to have higher incomes later in life and are less likely to become involved with the judicial system either as children or adults.

“We know that the foundation that is laid in the earliest years [of a child’s life], can change their trajectory in school, their trajectory in life,” said McNeil-Miller. “And we know that starting early is the answer.”

A key part of the Great Expectations initiative will be an intense focus on community collaboration and stakeholder engagement, and a commitment to a long-term investment in local partnerships and program outcomes.

“We wanted to make sure that we were cognizant of the idea that we can’t grant or program our way out of the situation,” said Allen Smart, vice president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. “It’s really going to take community engagement in ways that Forsyth County leadership, at all levels, has potentially never been engaged before.”

“MDC and the Trust believe that the key to any successful initiative is to bring people together to act collectively,” says Dan Broun of MDC, a Durham-based nonprofit selected by the Trust to manage the initiative and promote partnerships throughout the county. “It takes a community of dedicated partners working together. It’s the only way change of this scale can happen in a place.”

The Trust has identified five areas where the initiative will focus its efforts to reach those children who are behind in Forsyth County: 

Story time at the Carver School Road Library in Winston-Salem. Photo Credit: Alex Granados/EdNC
  • Improving child and family health
  • Improving self-regulation and executive function, for both children and parents
  • Improving parent-child interactions
  • Supporting children’s language development
  • Building systems and strengthening families


The Trust used the public event to announce three new grants to signal the official launch of the initiative.

  • Forsyth County Public Library will receive $330,000 to establish Great Expectations reading corners at local libraries, learning spaces designed for pre-school aged children.
  • First Book, a national nonprofit that provides free, low-cost materials to educators for children in need, will receive funding from the Trust to work with educators across the county, particularly in financially disadvantaged communities.

You can view the entire Great Expectations press conference here

Todd Brantley

Todd Brantley is the senior director of public affairs at The Rural Center. He formerly served as director of policy and research at EducationNC.

He grew up in Randolph County where he attended Farmer Elementary School, Randleman Middle School, and Randleman High School. Todd attended Randolph Community College before graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995. He received a master’s in theological studies from Duke Divinity School in 2002 and a master’s from the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009.

Prior to his work at The Rural Center and EducationNC, Todd also worked as the associate communications director at MDC providing strategic communications support for several programs, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Partners for Postsecondary Success and the Developmental Education Initiative. Todd was part of the writing and research team that produced the 2010 and 2011 State of the South reports. While a graduate student, he interned at The Story with Dick Gordon and was the editor of The Fountain, the alumni magazine for the Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill.

He was part of the research and writing team that received the Governmental Research Association’s 2014 Most Distinguished Research Award for a report on the use of telepsychiatry in rural areas. He was a co-author of How the Triangle Gives Back, a 2008 report that examined local philanthropic and charitable giving in the Research Triangle region. His writing and research has appeared in the Daily Yonder; Insight, a publication of the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research; and NC DataNet, a publication of The Program on Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A native of North Carolina, Todd currently splits his time between Raleigh and Pikeville, where he helps maintain his wife’s family’s farm. He says, “As a product of this state’s systems of public education, from secondary, to the community college system, to our public postsecondary system, I have seen firsthand how important these institutions are for the social and economic wellbeing of this state and its citizens. Regardless of whether you are a new resident or a native, a parent or not, we all benefit from the fruits of our current system of public learning, and the hard work and foresight of those who came before us who understood that, regardless of political affiliation, North Carolina needed to be a national leader in access to quality education for everyone.”