Director, Public Information

Vol. 44, No. 23

March 17, 2010

MU’s Kathy Thornburg Will Join Department, Lead Early Learning Efforts;

Richard Phillips Will Be Interim Deputy

Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro announced today that Dr. Kathy Thornburg, one of the nation’s leading authorities on early childhood education and families, will join the staff of the Department of Education next month.

Thornburg will lead a new Division of Early Learning within the agency, reflecting Nicastro’s plans to realign the Department around the priorities she has set with the State Board of Education.

Dr. Thornburg will work half-time at the Department of Education and continue to serve on a half-time basis as Director of the Center for Family Policy and Research at the University of Missouri. 

“I am very happy that Dr. Thornburg is able to join our leadership team and support our efforts to expand and improve early learning opportunities for children throughout Missouri.  Her expertise is unmatched,” Nicastro said.

“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Dr. Nicastro and many others in state government to improve the quality of education for our youngest citizens. Together, we will strive to improve supports for teachers of young children and those who work with youth after school, increase the quality of the programs for children and youth, and work to support the families of young children,” Thornburg said.

Dr. Thornburg has taught at the University of Kentucky and University of Missouri for 36 years.  From 2000-2002, she served as president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Her research and public policy work has focused on early childhood education, school readiness, teacher training and parenting education.  She has published more than 100 research articles, book chapters and books, including the recent book, Keepin’ On: The Everyday Struggles of Young Families in Poverty.


Richard P. Phillips, a longtime Missouri school administrator and former staff member of the Department of Education, also will return to the agency this week as the interim deputy commissioner, Nicastro said.

Phillips worked at the Department of Education from 1979 to 1993, coordinating the development of the state’s accreditation program for public schools.  In recent years, he has lead the Missouri Student Success Network, an association of educators and other service providers working to assist young people who are at risk of school failure.