For Oakland parents looking for nearby pre-school options, it was often a long effort and a required a lot of phone calls. Now a solution is at hand in the form of a map-driven website, EarlyOakland.org.

Across all of Oakland, there are more than 5000 seats for Head Start and other preschool programs, but many of these seats remain unused, principally because parents are unaware they are available.

Last week, over 20,000 postcards were mailed to Oakland parents from the City to advertise the Early Oakland website, which greatly simplifies finding these resources.

EarlyOakland.Org provides location and contact information to Bananas Child Care Resource and Referral, Oakland’s Early Headstart Program and Unity Council Preschool, as well as Oakland Unified School District Early Childhood Education Department and eases the effort of enrolling pre-school-aged kids.

The proof of concept website was created during the 2013 Oakland Open Data Day, an event organized by the Open Government and civic hacking group OpenOakland, based on a request by Krishen Laetsch, who works with the Oakland Education Cabinet (OEC), an amalgam of Mills College, OUSD, the Mayor’s Office, and local education groups and local foundations. OEC was formed in 2011 and includes the School District’s Interim Supervisor, Gary Yee, and Mayor Jean Quan.

The code for the website is posted on Github, an open source data repository, and is derived from work done in Chicago.

“A few months back, the OEC decided expand its ‘Swing into Preschool’ campaign and created a new project using the EarlyOakland.Org website established by OpenOakland as the campaign’s foundation,” said Steve Spiker, OpenOakland’s co-founder. “It aims to get more students enrolled, or at least on wait lists, for early childhood services throughout Oakland, as many parents are not aware of the importance of early childhood programs, and do not know that there are openings with free or reduced rates.”

OpenOakland volunteers have been updating and polishing the website over the last several weeks, to support the relaunch of EarlyOakland.org.

“Not enough people know that Oakland has a large number of people who give of their time and invest their resources in eduction,” Kishen Laetsch told Live Work Oakland. “People from OpenOakland, Mills College School of Education, First Five Alameda County Foundation, BlueSkies for Children, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. They all believe in the importance of early childhood services, believe in the citizens in Oakland and have invested in the campaigns to make a difference and improve outcomes for children and their families.”

Laetsch was one of the OEC members who pushed for the Early Childhood Prenatal to 8 committee and is affiliated with the San Francisco Foundation. He currently works as the Vice President for Strategic Development at UniversityNow, which is the parent company of Patten University in the Fruitvale.carla-dartis-OEC He is also on on the advisory board for Oakland Head Start and is a Mills College alumnus.

The project was spearheaded by Carla Dartis, who organized the postcard mailing and is the manager for the early education effort. “This is our strategy to increase awareness of these pre-school services,” Dartis told Live Work Oakland.

“The EarlyOakland.Org website provides contact information to Bananas Child Care Resource and Referral, Oakland Headstart and the Unity Council Preschool, as well as Oakland Unified School District Early Childhood Education Department and gives useful information to support enrollment processes.”

Dartis told Live Work Oakland that funding for the Early Oakland campaign came from the First 5 Alameda Foundation and the Rainin Foundation. She previously worked for the East Bay Community Foundation and the Tides Foundation, and currently lives in East Oakland.

Katherine Schultz-SchoolOfEd-cropKathy Shultz, the Dean of Education at Mills College, is the Chairperson of the Oakland Education Cabinet. She also chairs the 0-8: Early Childhood Committee of the cabinet and is a strong supporter of early education efforts.

“The 0-8 Committee has been actively engaged in addressing the many challenges in enrolling children in early childhood programs in Oakland since we began a little over three years ago,” Shultz told Live Work Oakland. “Our initial campaign, the Swing into Preschool Campaign, worked for three years to increase enrollment in the OUSD preschool program. Our current Early Oakland campaign is an outgrowth of that work.”

“Over the past few years,” Schultz explained, “our committee has worked to build collaborative relationships between OUSD, HeadStart and referral centers such as BANANAS. The committee is composed of activists, many of whom have worked tirelessly to address these issues in Oakland.”