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Debra McMannis: All Students Deserve a World-Class Education

March 2, 2014


When we invest in kids early, we reap the rewards of a better educated, more productive workforce, and a healthier state.

Debra McMannis


Early Education & Support Division, CDE

All students deserve focused attention. That’s why Debra McMannis. director of the newly renamed Early Education & Support Division within the California Department of Education,  hopes to provide a world-class education for all students, from early childhood to adulthood.

“When we invest in kids early, we reap the rewards of a better educated, more productive workforce, and a healthier state. Or we pay the price later with more high school dropouts and more young people headed for trouble,” she said.

According to McMannis, California Department of Education Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Blueprint for Great Schools calls for developing a birth-to-third grade system that serves our youngest learners. Children in strong early childhood education programs are better prepared for kindergarten, have stronger language skills, and are less likely to repeat a grade or drop out of school, she says.

“Without the strong, early start, students who are not proficient in reading by the third grade may never catch up, and it gets worse as they get older. I’m also working on strengthening relationships both inside and outside of CDE to continue to build on the infrastructure of early care and education in California.”

Having a strong background in early childhood education has helped McMannis focus on the needs of that demographic.

Debra grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, raised a family in Sacramento County, and now lives in southern Placer County. Prior to CDE, she worked as a teacher and administrator at San Juan Unified School District, implementing state and federal early learning programs.

Her predecessor at the CDE, Camille Maben, who’s now Executive Director at First 5 California, says from providing to overseeing, McMannis seems very open and wants to cooperate and partner with other agencies.

“I am impressed by the knowledge and commitment of those working at CDE and other state agencies,” McMannis says. “They are inspiring to me.”

Prior to working for the school district, Debra was a preschool parent volunteer, nanny, and operated a family child care home.

“I believe that childhood sets the foundation for one’s life. What happens to our youngest children matters the most. This does not mean that one who experiences trauma during childhood is destined to a traumatic life, but it does mean that all that happens to a child affects their life, one way or another,” she says. “Early experiences are important. That is why our work for children and families is so important.”