Third grade is a benchmark year for future academic success. A student not reading at grade level in third grade is 4 times more likely to drop out of high school.  Proficiency in reading depends on the quality of their early learning experiences.

Learning builds on prior learning. If the foundation is weak, later achievements will falter. Study after study shows that investments in the early years have by far the greatest return particularly for disadvantaged children. Investments in high quality early childhood education produce returns up to $13 for every $1 invested.

United Way of Greater Knoxville, in partnership with the Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE) Bright Start TN Network, will advocate, coordinate, and convene stakeholders that support young children and their families to ensure children birth through age 8 thrive socially, emotionally, and academically in Knoxville-Knox County, TN. 

Advisory Committee

Megan Barolet-Fogarty, Director of Youth and Family Engagement, Centro Hispano and Co-Chair TN Afterschool Network 

Patty Bowlin, Program Coordinator, East TN CCR&R and University of TN 

Denise Dean, Executive Director, East TN Freedom Schools 

Dr. Hope Denny, Early Childhood Education Program Coordinator, Pellissippi State 

Allison Douglas, Resource Center Manager, Harmony Family Center 

Kara Finger, Executive Director, Wesley House and Co-Chair TN Afterschool Network 

Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Knox County Government 

Renee Kelly, Chief of Staff, Knox County Schools 

Mayor Indya Kincannon, City of Knoxville 

Dr. Beth Lackey, Supervisor of Voluntary Pre-K, Knox County Schools 

Chris Letsos, CEO, Knox Education Foundation 

Tracy Liebermann, President, Knoxville Association for Children’s Early Education (KACEE) 

Lauren Longmire, Director of Regional Enhancement, Knoxville Chamber 

Dave Miller, President of East Tennessee, First Horizon Bank 

Lisa Rottman, General Manager of Marketing and Strategy, Stowers Machinery Corporation 

Dr. Javiette Samuel, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement and Director of Community Engagement and Outreach, UTK College of Child and Family Studies 

Jennifer Searle, Special Program Manager, Office of City of Knoxville Mayor 

Rhonda Smithson, Community Engagement Coordinator, Office of Knox County Mayor 

Daniel Watson, Knox County Board of Education and Executive Director, Restoration House 

Angela Webster, Executive Director Association of Infant Mental Health in Tennessee 

If you would like to learn more or have us share a presentation on this critical work, please contact Ellie Kittrell, Director of Child Care and Early Education Systems at or 865-386-9077.