Alumni Issue: Stephanie King — Advocate for education

Categories:  Edinboro Alumni Issue 2019    News
Friday, October 11th, 2019 at 11:42 AM
Alumni Issue: Stephanie King — Advocate for education by Jamie Heinrich
Stephanie King advocates for education as part of the United Way of Erie County. | Photo: Jamie Heinrich

Simply put, Stephanie King is an advocate for education.

The education director at the United Way of Erie County, King sees this role as “ensuring that you are doing your part to educate your community.” She certainly does her part, aiming to manage successful school initiatives, while educating parents and legislators about what’s really important — the children.

But this road was not King’s original plan for her life.

She first earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy with a minor in sociology from Thiel College in 1999. After graduation, she chose to take a year off before going to get her planned master’s degree. 

She ended up not going back to earn that master’s until 2007. In the eight years between her undergraduate and graduate programs, King taught at daycare centers and started a family.

“I’m glad I took that seven- to eight-year span to figure out what I really wanted to do,” she said. “That’s what I have done for the past 20 years. I have never left that field of child care and early care education.”

In 2007, with a 3-year-old and 3-month-old at home, King continued her educational journey at Edinboro University where she had earned a master’s degree in education by 2010. While pursuing this advanced degree, King also received a state teaching certificate in 2009.

When King graduated from EU in 2010, she then began her search for schools that would take her in. However, none of the local school districts were hiring teachers, and another opportunity opened up for her.

“I was offered the opportunity to take a child care center director position at Early Connections.”

As it turned out, Early Connections was located in the same building as the United Way, and now, eight years later, King is the United Way’s education director.

In management of the organization’s community school initiative, there’s been one project especially close to her heart.

“The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is [about] working with communities to ensure all students are reading on grade-level by third grade, and that they are reading proficiently by third grade,” said King.

The local United Way has dubbed the program Raising Readers. The initiative focuses on three main areas with students to establish proficient readers:

1. School readiness — Making sure students and families are prepared to begin kindergarten, and working with parents and with preschool services.

2. School attendance — Looking at attendance in a different way: not through the lens of truancy, but the lens of chronic absenteeism, or missing 18 days of the school year (excused and unexcused).

3. Summer learning — Combating the “summer slide” by making sure students are engaged in reading or other literacy-related activities throughout the summer.

“We are looking to educate not just the families, but the community as well,” King explained. “Because the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading isn’t just in its own silo. Yes, it is a United Way initiative, but it encompasses the entire community of Erie County.”

This program can only assist in reversing some trends in Erie County.

According to the 2016-17 Erie City School District Financial Recovery Plan, 13,500 students make up the Erie City School District (ECSD). About 80% of these students are classified as economically disadvantaged.

Further, 70% of these students scored “Basic” in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math in 2016. Based on these results, the district failed to attain a satisfactory performance profile in that year.

Recent years have seen King receive additional responsibility, as well. Last year, King was nominated to become a Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (POCDEL) policy fellow.

POCDEL oversees the Department of Education (PDE) and the Department of Human Services (DHS) at the state level. King trekked five hours to Harrisburg, and five hours back to Erie once a month to learn not only how PDE and DHS policies are enacted, but also the process of making the policy. She drove over 120 hours total over the course of a year.

During her time in Harrisburg, King saw the importance of community representation at the state level.

“They forget about our little corner of the state in Harrisburg, because we are so far away from everybody.”

She continued, “I think for our county, we need a bigger voice at the table. We need a louder voice at the table.”

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