DESE Announces New Office of Early Learning


The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced today during the regularly scheduled State Board of Education meeting the creation of an Office of Early Learning. This change is part of DESE’s ongoing focus on early learning and early literacy, one of the department’s four priority areas in the Show-Me Success strategic plan.

Earlier this year, DESE announced the State of Missouri received a $33.5 million Preschool Development Grant Birth-Five (PDG B-5) from the U.S. Department of Education, aimed at coordinating a more effective, high-quality early learning system that prepares children to be ready for school. DESE is the lead agency for this grant, working closely with colleagues across state government that serve early childhood, including the Departments of Social Services, Health and Senior Services, and Mental Health, as well as the Missouri Head Start State Collaboration Office and Children’s Trust Fund.

“We’re doing great work to better align efforts between agencies, and we saw a need to model that in our own department,” said Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. “Bringing our early learning team members into one office will enhance our efforts towards achieving equitable access, inclusive practices and high-quality early learning opportunities for Missouri’s children and their families.”

Dr. Pam Thomas, DESE’s current chief of strategic initiatives and talent development, who has been leading the PDG B-5 work for the past year, will assume the role as chief of early learning, effective immediately. Dr. Thomas has worked in the early childhood field for over 17 years, serving 11 of those years as the state coordinator of the First Steps early intervention program at DESE.

“The Office of Early Learning’s primary goal is to ensure every child in Missouri is ready for school,” said Dr. Thomas. “We know that prior to entering kindergarten, some children do not have access to the meaningful learning and development programs available in our state. This range of experiences results in kindergarteners with varying levels of foundational skills and behaviors appropriate for the school setting. Our team will work to implement change and, ultimately, set Missouri students up for success in school and in life.”

The Office of Early Learning is responsible for administering the PDG B-5 and supporting several state early learning programs, including Parents as Teachers, First Steps early intervention, early childhood special education, Quality Assurance Report pilot, Childcare Block Grant, Missouri Preschool Project, and state- and federally-funded preschool.

To learn more about the PDG B-5 work, click here. You can also see the PDG B-5 work in action by visiting, a new resource for families and professionals working in programs for children birth to age five.