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Kindergarten readiness initiative marshals countywide resources, rallies dozens of community partners

PINELLAS, Fla. — A recent state report shows only 57% of Pinellas children were “ready” for kindergarten. To address this and related areas of need, The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg awarded a multi-year, Transformative Grant to The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County (ELC) in 2018 to launch Thrive By Five Pinellas (TBFP). The initiative’s ambitious goal: bringing together organizations and families throughout the county to ensure all children in Pinellas County are ready for kindergarten. (Read more about the grant here.)

“Thrive By Five Pinellas is a collective impact initiative, which means we’re working to transform early childhood in Pinellas County through intense collaboration and alignment of resources,” said Kate Bauer-Jones, director of Thrive By Five Pinellas. “We’re engaging hundreds of stakeholders, all working together to ensure that Pinellas County has an equitable, accessible, responsive, and accountable early childhood system.”


TBFP formed a Steering Committee comprising key players in the early childhood landscape:

  • Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas
  • Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg
  • Community Foundation of Tampa Bay
  • St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce
  • Juvenile Welfare Board
  • Pinellas County Schools
  • LSF Head Start
  • Florida Health Department
  • Parent Representatives
  • Directions for Living
  • Early Steps

The Steering Committee hired Kate Bauer-Jones in April 2018 to lead TBFP. Former President & CEO of the United Way of the Florida Keys, Bauer-Jones is an experienced and proven executive and already a fixture in Pinellas County nonprofit circles and community conversations on early childhood.

“Kate is working with local influencers, social and human services providers, education/nonprofit leaders, government officials, and business and civic organizations, to ensure kindergarten readiness is top-of-mind in conversations throughout Pinellas County,” said Early Learning Coalition CEO Lindsay Carson. “Equitable access to quality early learning for all children will only be achieved with communitywide understanding and involvement.”


“TBFP engages hundreds of stakeholders countywide, to pinpoint opportunities for our resource-rich community to work together to better meet the needs of our youngest citizens,” said Kate Bauer-Jones. “Investing in early childhood ensures healthy development and strong futures for young children, and allows parents to continue in their careers and in the workforce. This strengthens local economies alongside strengthening neighborhoods.”

As part of the formula to achieve this critical work, Thrive By Five has established Project Teams, dedicated to focus areas identified through comprehensive research and strategic planning, and ran by passionate volunteers and staff from a range of organizations and businesses. Project teams include:

  • Business Engagement
    Supporting family-friendly workplaces and private sector champions of early education
  • Children Prepared to Succeed
    Ensuring equitable access to quality programs
  • Systems Alignment
    Working together to streamline processes for families to access services
  • Parent and Caregiver Support
    Hearing and responding to needs of families in Pinellas County
  • Public Awareness
    Building public will for prioritizing early childhood as a community value

Working relationships in the community also include: University of South Florida St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg College, Feeding Tampa Bay, City of St. Petersburg, United Way Suncoast, R’Club Child Care, Pinellas County WIC, Pinellas County Child Care Licensing, Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas, The Children’s Movement of Florida, many local childcare providers and early educators, 211 Pinellas County, and more.

Working with partners, TBFP has already helped catalyze some notable and potentially significant changes in circumstances of vulnerable families: a newly forming partnership with a local food pantry may produce a regular food delivery partnership to childcare centers; child welfare agencies and the ELC are producing a new process for prioritizing and promoting safety of vulnerable children by giving them access and a pathway to quality childcare and early learning opportunities; and work with the City of St. Petersburg, alongside potential national partners, endeavors to make St. Petersburg an early adopter of the new Early Learning Nation movement.


With infrastructure in place, and still building, Bauer-Jones notes several examples of key programs both in-works and around-the-corner:

  • Working with employers and families to develop a formal “Family Friendly Workplace Certification,”
  • Piloting an “adopt-a-center” program for businesses to sponsor early childhood education centers,
  • Working with service providers on multiple strategies designed to streamline application processes,
  • Developing specific frameworks within which the system can hear – and respond to – direct and immediate needs of local families,
  • Aligning with like-minded entities to help articulate and advocate for public policy priorities,
  • Continuing to build a network of awareness advocates, and educating the public,
  • Demystifying early care and education opportunities for families not yet exposed,
  • Spotlight and elevate inspirational early educators, with the esteem they deserve,
  • And more.

If interested in getting involved with a project team, or supporting Thrive By Five in various other ways, please contact Kate Bauer-Jones at or 727.400.4430.

More at: Patch, Tampa Bay Newswire, St. Pete Chamber, Florida Business Daily, Florida Coalition For ChildrenFlipboardMSN.comMompreneur Media.

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