Early Learning Center Leaders Bring International Expertise to Metro Pre-K

District hires three directors to lead centers at Ross, Bordeaux, and Casa Azafrán

Metro Schools’ educators are preparing for the 2014-15 school year, when the district will serve 520 prekindergarten students at its three new early learning centers. Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register and Director of Early Learning Innovation Lisa Wiltshire have put together a team to run these centers, and develop what promises to be one of the top early childhood programs in the country.

The Early Learning Center Directors are:

  • Laura Bilbrey – Ross Early Learning Center
  • Dana Eckman – Bordeaux Early Learning Center
  • Johanna Guerrero – Casa Azafrán Early Learning Center

“These three educators bring international expertise in early childhood education,” said Wiltshire. “They are skilled leaders with experience in designing curriculum for young learners, using data to drive continuous improvement and developing partnerships with families. These are exactly the skills we need to effectively develop and manage our early learning centers.”

The early learning centers will serve as hubs for innovation in the district, while also offering hundreds of new prekindergarten seats to children who need them. Working with the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University, center directors and teachers will develop an academic program rooted in play, experiential learning and discovery. They will help students build strong foundations in math and reading, with additional focus on the arts, science and social and emotional skills.

The expertise gained and methods developed at these centers will contribute to the development of a premier early learning program that will eventually be able to serve every child in Nashville who wants and needs it.

“There aren’t a lot of districts doing what we’re doing, and these leaders are now on the ground floor of something terrific,” said Dr. Register. “We’re building an early childhood program from scratch with local funding. That’s why we were able to attract such dynamic and powerful talent to lead these centers. They will build our early learning centers into incubators where we can see what works well, build on it and then spread it to other classrooms and more students.”

The directors start work next week to get the centers ready for students. The Ross and Bordeaux Early Learning Centers will open with the rest of Metro schools on Wednesday, August 6, 2014. The Casa Azafrán Early Learning Center will open Tuesday, September 2 to allow time for the space to be built and prepared for students.

Dr. Register added, “To have a great school, you need three things: a great leader, great teachers and students who want to be there. Now that we have these three great leaders, we can start building the faculties at each center. And when school starts, we’ll fill those centers with young children who applied to the program and will get a great start to their educational careers.”

The prekindergarten application is still open! Learn how to apply for a seat in the 2014-15 school year on our website.

About the Directors

Laura Bilbrey is an internationally recognized expert on early learning with 20 years of experience running early learning centers in Nashville, London and Dublin. For most of that time she worked on both sides of the Atlantic for Bright Horizons Family Solutions, eventually rising through the ranks to run all centers in the largest city in Ireland. Most recently, Bilbrey served as vice president for young children and families at the Martha O’Bryan Center right here in Nashville. She earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Tennessee State University, a master’s at the University of Leicester in the UK and did post-graduate work at Middlesex University also in the UK.

Dana Eckman has been a teacher, administrator, counselor, social worker, athletic coach and more. The unifying thread through this experience is working with young children and helping families. Since 2004, she has directly supervised early learning programs in three school districts in California. Through these experiences, Eckman has accrued years of leadership and managerial acumen, as well as strong knowledge of how young children learn and what they need to succeed. She is well equipped to build a community around a school that serves the needs of families beyond academics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and three master’s degrees in instructional design, instructional technology and cross-cultural teaching.

Johanna Guerrero is ideal for the early learning center at Casa Azafrán because of her extensive background working with English Learners. She has developed the kinds of English Learner programs that will serve students at Casa Azafrán, and has deep knowledge in language development, math and science. Guerrero is also bilingual, which will be a key asset in engaging families and building a community around the school. She has worked with English Learners and designed instruction for school districts in Texas and Nevada, as well as at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Last school year, Guerrero was the STEM instructional designer for Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School. She holds a bachelor’s in applied learning and development in bilingual education from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s in education from Southern Methodist University.