Few women in education have worked as long, and as hard to advance the education of young children in Alabama as Jeana Ross.
A Guntersville native, Ross earned her Bachelors degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and her Master’s in educational leadership from the University of Alabama. She began her career in the Jackson County school system in 1975, teaching second and third grades.
From there, she taught in the Guntersville education system, continuing her work with children in kindergarten through the third grade, and became one of the first kindergarten teachers in Alabama Public Schools, a full-day program.
“My love for children’s curiosity and delight of discovery created a strong desire to always participate in and facilitate the pure joy of learning,” Ross told the U.S. Department of Education in an interview.
When she started her own family, Ross chose to take a break from her career, and focussed on raising her two sons.
In 1997 she jumped back in to the workforce, full speed ahead.
Starting back as a preschool teacher, Ross was given the opportunity to write school readiness standards for the Marshall County school district. With her focus now turned on developing other children throughout the state; she quickly advanced to a leadership position, coaching pre-k teachers, and building pre-k programs in school systems across the state.
In 2008 she became the Director for Educational Services in the Boaz City School Systems, implementing and evaluating Early childhood education programs. From 2010-2011 she served as the Assistant Principal at Madison City Schools, until she was appointed by then Governor Robert Bentley to lead the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
Through Ross’s leadership, the department has made leaps and bounds. Turning the state’s fragmented early childhood education programs into award winning, nationally recognized curriculums.
Under her watchful eye, the program has experienced the most growth in its history; growing from 211 classrooms to more than 900 classrooms located in all 67 counties in the state. Her department has also been responsible for writing and receiving over $100 million in federal grant awards for education.
The program has also received national recognition, with Alabama being one of only four states in the nation to be recognized by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) for meeting all 10 of the NIEER quality benchmarks.
As a member of Governor Kay Ivey‘s cabinet, she is also a leader of the Children’s Policy Council, the Children First Trust Fund, and the Head Start Collaboration Office, and a founding member of the Office of School Readiness Advisory Board and Evaluation Task Force.
Ross has always held a special interest, and love for children from low-income and has secured over $7.5 million in grant funds over the course of her career to offer quality services to low income and at-risk children and families.
Through her efforts, the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education has experienced tremendous growth, in numbers, and in the quality of the programs offered.
Ross is an expert leader and educator, spending over two decades advancing the Alabama education system, and improving the lives of the children she encountered along the way. In spite of her busy schedule, Ross was kind enough to take some time, and answer some of Alabama Today’s questions on her life, work, and influences.
How have other women influenced your success?
I have been greatly influenced by the effort of devoted educators, many of whom are women, who work regardless of pay or recognition every day to teach children and champion their right to reach their greatest potential. These women are examples of selflessness and responsiveness that provides children powerful opportunities to find purpose and experience success that impacts their entire life through an excellent education. An incredible mother and two dear grandmothers, true examples of graciousness, humility, love and determination continue to inspire me.
What shaped your desire to work in education, and then in government?
A love for a child’s curiosity and delight of discovery created a strong desire to always participate in this pure joy of learning and to protect it as much as possible.
What has been your favorite area of service, and what is your favorite thing about that position?
My opportunity for service from the first was centered around early learning and has remained my favorite area of concentration. The first five years are the most important in a child’s development. It is during these years that a foundation is established that shapes a child’s future health, skills and abilities. A position at the state level that enables me to be part of an amazing team of experts that with great energy and enthusiasm effect change and creates a system of support for the early years is a much-appreciated responsibility.
Have you read any books that have shaped your perspective on life?
The Bible is the book that has most shaped my perspective on life. It has given me understanding of purpose, knowledge of truth and acceptance of my limitations. It provides guidance and strength to continually improve and persevere in serving others.
What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue careers as educators, or serve in state government?
Surround yourself with positive and innovative people that value authentic collaboration and strategic risk-taking. Never under estimate the power of communication and honesty.
How do you spend your (rare) free time?
During rare free time, I enjoy entertaining, gardening and reading and most of all being with family.