CAT Spotlight – Peninsula

Bright BeginningsCommunity

Both Wendy Root Askew and Cresta McIntosh have a deep-rooted passion for early childhood education and development, and they each serve their community as members of the Bright Beginnings’ Peninsula Collaborative Action Team (CAT). Wendy works as an aide to Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker and serves on Monterey Peninsula Unified School Board as a Board Member. Cresta is the Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education for Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD).  

The local data about early childhood development gave Wendy and Cresta an important resource to talk with other advocates and policy makers.

“If we look at the research, we know that investments in early childhood education, and for families with young children, are really good preventative policies to be promoting,”
shared Wendy. “Dr Heckman’s presentation at CSUMB in March 2012 helped us connect early childhood development data to economic growth and workforce growth, and suddenly we had a whole additional audience of people that were interested and paying attention.”

“When I came onboard, the data that showed our students’ social-emotional readiness level when entering kindergarten made it even more clear that we need to continue to bolster our experiences for the earliest learners in our district,” explained Cresta.

In 2012, Supervisor Parker and Supervisor Simon Salinas asked the county for a report about its current investments in early childhood development to support families from a preventative perspective. This ultimately led to the county securing $300,000 for the Monterey County Children’s Council to lead the Early Childhood Development Initiative, now known as Bright Beginnings.

This initiative ultimately benefits all children. MPUSD has taken the initiative within the school district for its students by restructuring early learning programs, expanding preschool classrooms, bringing in parental engagement, and expanding Transitional Kindergarten (TK) programs. “The County and our nonprofit partners can do so much, but really it’s the school district that are paying the brunt of the cost if you have kids showing up to kindergarten who are unprepared to learn and families who are unprepared to support their children,” explained Wendy.

The Peninsula CAT hopes this research will help the district better understand where its students are and how to better help them achieve success in school.  

With the support of Bright Beginnings, and specifically Michelle Slade, the Peninsula CAT has begun creating a data pipeline to better prepare students for kindergarten. “This is a slow process, but we’re eager to create opportunities for even our private organizations who are working with students…to have an awareness of what social-emotional readiness is and how to better inform our data-driven decisions for our students in the community,” explained Cresta.

Both women encourage other CAT communities to consider electing a qualified person on their school board who will champion early childhood education.“Early childhood development needs to be their priority and their passion. Once this person has been chosen, the work is not over. You must continually support this person throughout their position on the school board,” explained Wendy. “This person must have a high level of commitment and transparency. Review the data points around early childhood development in your community and then create a tangible goal around it. We share this with our community and this is how we can allocate our funding,” added Cresta.

Wendy shared an example of how MPUSD recently allocated $33 million from its Measure P 2010 school bond to improve school facilities. “Pre-School and Parent Education programs are not intentionally left off the list, but in my role as a Board member I was able to remind everyone that investments made in early childhood development pay dividends into the future, making sure that our pre-school facilities were added to the list of priority projects. As a result MPUSD will be investing $1.1 million into pre-school facilities over the next two years.”

Due to the commitment of the school board, MPUSD is now one the few districts to offer an expanded age range for children who are eligible to attend TK. The district has also increased both preschool and TK enrollment in Seaside and Marina by over 100 students. “We have done a lot of outreach by building awareness and having conversations with parents about how their student will experience a seamless transition if they’re enrolled in preschool and then go on to TK,” explained Cresta.

“I serve on the school board partly to be an advocate for early childhood education and development, but also have an interest in what the school board prioritizes when it comes to funding for its LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan), professional development, facility investments, etc. We’re cognizant of where our early investments can pay returns for us over the course of a student’s career with us,” shared Wendy.

Both Wendy and Cresta stressed the need to figure out how their CAT can work with the greater community in a way that is meaningful to them and meaningful to the district. “It’s one thing to invite people to a meeting, but how do we bring people together to make progress towards our collective goals? Right now, it’s the district that is committed to moving this work forward,” explained Wendy. “People really do care, but they need to be guided into exactly how to engage. Businesses care that their employees have reliable quality childcare. Parents care that their child will have the best start in life…but people are busy, we need to find meaningful ways for different people to engage.”

In terms of decisions and the work that the Peninsula CAT has done, it is a collaborative process between teachers, parents, community partners, and early learning advocates. “Ultimately, we have tremendous support from the board in terms of advocating for early childhood learning,” shared Cresta. “Knowing if we invest now, that this will have a long term impact on students who we want to graduate from high school, who will go back into our community, who will be successful community members. The belief and the data driven support around early childhood education has allowed us not to take risks, but to be able to step out in front of the work that has already been done.”


July 18, 2015
Monterey County Weekly: Meet the Class of 2028 – A year spent in transitional kindergarten at one of the county’s most disadvantaged schools shows that astonishing success can be found in the most unlikely places.

August 29, 2015
Monterey Herald: MPUSD unveils renovated learning center in Seaside for preschoolers

August 29, 2015
Youtube: Cabrillo Childhood Education Center grand re-opening, Cresta McIntosh MPUSD Assistant Superintendent

February 24, 2016
Youtube: MPUSD Early Education Pathways: Preschool to Kindergarten

February 27, 2016
Monterey Herald: MPUSD expands early childhood education opportunities

March 13, 2016
Monterey Herald: MPUSD launches parenting classes to increase academic achievement

August 30, 2016
KION: MPUSD expands transitional kindergarten program

Monterey Peninsula Unified School District: Creating educational pathways for MPUSD’s earliest learners

Monterey Peninsula Unified School District: A seamless transition from pre-school to kindergarten