Early Childhood Education on Orcas Island: The work of the Early Childhood Education Initiative

Submitted by the members of ECEI.

Who are we?

For ten years, preschool educators and board members from our three state-certified preschool programs, county early childhood education staff, education and child development experts, along with community advocates and investors have participated in a public/private partnership called the Early Childhood Education Initiative (ECEI).

The work of ECEI is grounded in solid research on best practices for preschool children and educators and focuses on a single goal: to provide sustainable access to high quality preschool education for all of Orcas Island’s children regardless of family financial restraints or developmental needs of the children.

The Washington State Department of Commerce Child Care Partnership recognized ECEI in 2020 by awarding us a competitive grant to document our work. The state disseminated descriptions of ECEI to other rural communities as a replicable model of public/private partnership successfully serving preschool children and families: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lC08MW3Q5QVKOiTuZxYKVLxtJBH4UTt-/view.

How we work and what we’ve accomplished

Every quarter for over 8 years, our Steering Committee convenes to discuss the needs of each program’s children and families (access) and the needs of preschool educators to improve their instruction (quality). All of these access and quality requests have been funded since 2017, resulting in universal access to quality preschool for all families on Orcas Island. For the past five years ECEI has achieved the following outcomes for students based on valid, comprehensive assessments of developmental and educational progress administered at the end of their preschool career:

•At least 90% of ECEI programs’ “graduates” are Kindergarten ready.

•At least 90% of students with individual education plans crafted to meet their special needs have hit their educational and developmental targets.

These numbers significantly exceed the county, state and national readiness rates. A fuller documentation of ECEI’s outcomes is available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/114quIoEwa4qmn6FusfwsY1Yr-hySsh2c/view

Finally, ECEI has received over $1.5 million dollars in private funds from hundreds of individuals and several private foundations, 95% of which are rooted here on Orcas Island, along with multiple grants from public sources and the United Way of San Juan County. This has drastically reduced the preschool program staffs’ fund-raising burden so they can focus on producing successful student outcomes. ECEI currently has committed funds sufficient to guarantee two years of sustained universal access and parental choice among the three quality preschool programs and has launched an initiative to ensure a permanent five-year sustainability horizon.


ECEI, through a collaborative public/private partnership, has transformed the early childhood education landscape on Orcas Island to provide all families and children – without exception and irrespective of economic or developmental and educational challenges – the opportunity to access demonstrably high-quality preschool programs. ECEI’s unique program is based on operational principles that are well-established, research-based, and collaborative, with a funding base that is diverse, committed, and sustainable, all of which attest to the strength of early childhood opportunities and support on Orcas Island.