Although the past two years have been marred by controversy which has attracted attention from the Daily Bruin’s editorial board, UCLA Early Care and Education’s Executive Director Jayanti Tambe’s accomplishments and her deep love for children should not go unstated, and people must realize that most of the problems with ECE lay largely beyond her control.
Tambe was hired as the new executive director of the Early Care and Education child care centers in February 2015. She visited the Fernald Center her first day on the job and noticed that the depth of the woodchips on the playground was insufficient and unsafe. Even though the director or the Fernald Center had already called UCLA Facilities, the estimated delivery of the additional woodchips order was a month away. That was not good enough for Tambe, who made several phone calls and the next day, trucks were at the Fernald Center, hauling in new woodchips. One week later, she was told that the same center had a long-standing water incursion problem, which would flood the yard. The call was made and the issue was repaired in two days. All this happened when she had been on the job for less than two weeks.
She has obtained several grants for supplies and distributed funding so that she could purchase high-quality materials for all three centers including replacing broken crayons, dried-up markers and
broken sand toys, and buying new materials such as water tables, sensory play equipment, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based quality toys. She has filled the library with books relevant to the world today, on diversity, gender equality, LGBTQ, political protests and refugees.
She also introduced a music program in the budget for all 19 classrooms and brought in a soccer program for the oldest classrooms, covering the cost for parents who cannot afford it. At the request of the staff, she pushed to have a perimeter fence built around the Krieger Center, built new offices at the Fernald Center and opened up the walls of two preschool classrooms so that teachers are better able to supervise the bathroom areas.
Tambe began a two-year process of reducing classroom sizes to alleviate teacher burden and improve the payroll budget. She extended the hours of operation by half an hour to reduce parental stress and arranged teacher and director training from world-renowned experts, including training on diversity. She has made sure to send all of the teachers from the three centers to the STEM conference to support science-based curriculum at ECE.
On a larger stage, she has been a featured speaker at the most prestigious national conferences focusing on children, including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and its state affiliate, the California Association for Eduction of Young Children, as well as at international conferences in India while representing UCLA. Under her guidance, ECE was chosen by a Chinese government delegation of preschools to observe and partner with its program. In these two years, Tambe and her team have been instrumental in the state review for Title 5 standards and provided supervision for the accreditation process for all three centers.
In addition to her many accomplishments, it is her love of children that most parents notice. She arrives every morning at 5:30 a.m. to carefully craft the windows of her office so that children who pass by can notice the theme and talk about it in their classroom. She thoughtfully picks out books from her own collection and places them outside her office for children to borrow. Children know that when her door is open, they are always welcome in her office and that she will allow them to play with her toys for as long as they want.
I had a child at the Infant Development Program in early 2008 when the executive director resigned under similar pretenses. Unfortunately, IDP has had several executive directors come and go since then, with little change in the systematic structure. Now, nine years later, as a parent with ECE, it is my fear that history will repeat itself.
As the ECE parental body begins to read through the recommendations from the task force commissioned by the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh, we must remember that there are inherent issues with child care at the University of California level not under the control of any one person. The best leaders, like Tambe, don’t settle for complacency but strive for change and innovation. Unfortunately, change is hard. Even if ECE is lucky enough to find another expert to take her place, unless those changes are made, UCLA is setting that person up to fail. More importantly, it will fail our children.