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Karen W. Ponder

Distinguished Fellow


assist states in creating and revising statewide early childhood systems that include local coalitions. I also work on special projects ranging from one-on-one assistance with state and local early childhood leaders to consultation with state and local groups on a variety of early childhood issues.  Currently, I am working with Southern Oregon and Northern California early childhood Hub leaders to build the leadership skills needed in early childhood systems building.

I do this work because…

I believe that the first years of life set the trajectory for the future. When children are healthy, nurtured, and engaged in active learning, and when their families are heard and supported, they have the greatest potential for learning and positive life outcomes.  Building and implementing strong state early childhood systems provides an opportunity for all children to succeed, beginning at birth.

An aspect of my work that excites me…

is observing the progress that states are making in building strong, equitable early childhood systems that are engaged with and responsive to families.

Work History

  • Early childhood teacher and director for 20 years
  • NC Division of Child Development, overseeing the state’s programs and services for children with special needs and Smart Start Manager from 1992 to 1995
  • NC Partnership for Children,  president and administrator of Smart Start from 1995 to 2007


  • Undergraduate work at Anderson University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University (NCSU)
  • Graduated summa cum laude from NCSU.
  • Awarded the NC Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor Easley in 2007, the highest civilian honor in N.C.


  • Early Childhood Research Quarterly: “Practitioner Perspective: Assessing Child Care Quality with a Telephone Interview;” Quarterly 16, 2001;  pp. 241-243 Bryant, D. and  Ponder, K.
  • “Early Care and Education in Infancy and Early Childhood, “ Michigan Report, Ponder, K., 2007.
  • “Building Our Foundation:  Assessing Early Care and Education in Arizona;” AZ First Things First, Allvin, R., Allen,  and Ponder, K.; 2008.
  • “Building Early Childhood Systems:  The Collaborative Leadership and Accountability Model,”  Ponder, K., 2011
  • Early Childhood Systems: Transforming Early Learning,” Teachers College Press, Columbia University,  Kagan, S. and Kauerz, K.;  A State Vision for an Early Childhood System, Ponder, K.,  Chapter 2,  2012.
  • “Key Themes Report, Interviews with Connecticut Key Informants Regarding Early Care and Education Systems Improvement,”  BUILD Initiative, Boston, MA, Wiggins, K; Ponder, K; and Hibbard, S,  2012.
  • “The Nuts and Bolts of Building Early Childhood Systems through State/Local
  • Initiatives,” BUILD Initiative, Boston, MA, Cobb, G. and Ponder, K., 2014.
  • Rising to the Challenge: Building Effective Systems for Young Children and Families
  •  “Framework for Connecticut’s Statewide System of State and Local Partnerships,” Ponder, 2016.
  • “State-Local Models and Approaches Designed to Build Strong Early Learning Systems:  What States Have Learned,”  US Department for Children & Families, Office of Child Care, Washington, DC, Ponder, K., October 2016.
  • Colorado’s Early Childhood Councils: 2016 Evaluation Report; Soli, M., Daily, S., Maxwell, K., Ponder, K., , Child Trends,  2016.