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Carmichael Hall

Jeana Ross

M.A., The University of Alabama, 2000. Educational Leadership and Administration.

B.Ed., The University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1975. Early Childhood Education and Teaching.

Throughout her career, Jeana Ross has created, developed, directed, and evaluated programs that have positively impacted Alabama children from birth through graduation. Ross has 28 years of public school and state government experience in Alabama with much of her time devoted to establishing quality early childhood programs.

During her 18 years working in local public schools, she was a teacher and administrator, while also securing more than $7.5 million in grant funds to provide quality programs and support services to low-income children and families. Ross was appointed to serve on the 2007 governor’s task force that was charged with developing an expansion plan for the Alabama First Class Pre-K program. She further influenced its expansion by establishing one of the first Alabama Office of School Readiness Pre-K programs in the Marshall County School System. 

Ross was appointed by the governor of Alabama as secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Education in 2012 and served in that capacity on the Governor’s Cabinet until her retirement from state government in June 2020. As a member of the Governor’s Cabinet, Secretary Ross oversaw the Office of School Readiness, Alabama Children’s Policy Councils, the Children First Trust Fund, State Home Visiting, Alabama Integrated Approach to Early Learning (P-3), and the Head Start Collaboration Office. She served in that role under two consecutive Alabama governors. She is a founding member of both the Office of School Readiness Advisory Board and Evaluation Task Force and the Alabama Children’s Cabinet. In 2017, Governor Kay Ivey appointed Secretary Ross to serve as a commissioner for the Education Commission of the States.

As secretary of early childhood education, Ross oversaw the largest expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program while maintaining the program’s nationally recognized quality standards. The National Institute for Early Education Research recognizes Alabama as one of only four states in the nation to have a state pre-kindergarten program that meets all 10 quality standards benchmarks while demonstrating all 15 essential elements for high-quality pre-K. Secretary Ross and her team grew the nation’s highest quality pre-K program from 217 classrooms in 2012 to 1,350 classrooms located in all 67 counties of the state in 2020.

“Doing what is best for children” was Secretary Ross’ guiding principle; she led through action and example. With broad, bipartisan support from the Governor’s Office and the Alabama Legislature, the First Class Pre-K program received its largest funding increases in 2018 and 2019, expanding access to the program to almost 40 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-old population. It was in 2019 that the governor recommended in the budget, and the Alabama Legislature approved the largest ever single year expansion of First Class Pre-K. State investment in quality early childhood education grew from $19 million to $138 million from 2012-2020. In corresponding growth, there was a 480% increase in additional classrooms, the number of children and families served, and pre-K teachers employed under her leadership. The increases in funding and legislative support were a direct result of Secretary Ross’ enthusiastic and innovative leadership. 

Ross led the department in writing and receiving federal grants totaling over $163 million, including three preschool development grants awarded in 2014, 2019, and 2020. In her role as secretary, First Class Pre-K created a new pay scale for the program’s teachers to ensure pay parity with K-12 educators, including supplementing the salaries of teachers who obtain a master’s degree and sustaining the cost of teacher pay raises. The department also provided tuition scholarships for hundreds of First Class Pre-K teachers attaining higher education, from CDA through bachelor’s degrees, and provided support for 13 two- and four-year institutions pursuing accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education is the designated state lead agency for early learning that includes home visiting programs, with family support services that have expanded from serving 13 counties to a total of all 67 counties through the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visitation grants and additional state funds. Secretary Ross led the launch of Born Ready, an initiative focused on raising awareness among Alabama parents of the importance of early brain development and high-quality early care and education. Born Ready was not only developed to inform parents, but to empower them and give them access to the tools they need to be their children’s first and most important teacher.

Under her direction, the agency piloted the Pre-K through Third Grade P-3 Integrated Approach to Early Learning and its corresponding Pre-K-3 Leadership Academy to strengthen and support high-quality early learning experiences as part of Governor Ivey’s education initiative, Strong Start Strong Finish. The P-3 initiative grew from five systems with seven schools and 36 classrooms to 23 systems, 36 schools, and 190 classrooms statewide in 2020, including traditional public schools, a public charter school, and a university laboratory school. In addition, 75 Alabama elementary school principals and school system administrators successfully completed the Alabama P-3 Leadership Academy with a professional credential. This successful effort continues to grow and receive legislative budget increases each year. 

Ross led the creation of a formal multidisciplinary research and evaluation team, consisting of researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education, and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama to study the effects of Alabama’s high-quality early childhood education programs. These research teams’ findings continue to be used to ensure that decision-making at the state level is driven by what works best for children. “The persistence of reading and math proficiency: the benefits of Alabama’s pre-kindergarten program endure in elementary and middle school,” was published in the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy on July 23, 2020.

Alabama is nationally recognized as a leader in quality early childhood education, regularly serving as a model to other states. Secretary Ross and her team were frequently invited to provide leadership and assistance on the national level, to share Alabama’s successes in replicating quality early learning and care programs while maintaining a standard of excellence. Secretary Ross has participated in multiple cross-state and national collaborative efforts, including those led by the National Governors Association, the Hunt Institute, the Education Commission of the States, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Institute for Early Education Research, and the Center for Early Education Learning Outcomes. In August 2020, the award-winning documentary produced by the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America was released and prominently features Alabama First Class Pre-K and highlights Governor Ivey and other state leaders for their ongoing support of investing in high-quality early childhood education. Under her leadership, Alabama was also chosen as one of four states for the NIEER study “Effective State Offices of Early Learning: Structural Features, Enabling Conditions and Key Functions in Four States” that was released in May 2021. 

Jeana Ross holds a master of arts degree in education leadership from The University of Alabama and a bachelor of science degree in early childhood education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She and her husband, Carey, reside in Guntersville. She has two sons, John (Allison) and Wright (Aubrey), and twin grandchildren.

After retiring from public service, she continues to work in advocating and influencing policy for high-quality experiences for children and support for families.