OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi early childhood education expert Lynn Darling is the recipient of the Marion B. Hamilton Award given annually by the Southern Early Childhood Association, or SECA, for outstanding leadership in pre-K education.
Darling, who is coordinator of early childhood initiatives at the UM School of Education, Mississippi’s largest producer of teachers and educational leaders, was unanimously nominated for the award by the 30-member board of directors of the Mississippi Early Childhood Association, or MsECA. The honor recognizes her more than 15 years of work to improve pre-K education in Mississippi.
“When we traditionally look at education, most think K-12,” said Darling, a Memphis native. “But for years, research has proven that high-quality early learning experiences before kindergarten have positive long-term effects on social, emotional and academic outcomes for children.”
In 2012, Darling headed a task force formed by the Mississippi Department of Education to establish statewide early learning standards for 3- and 4-year-olds in alignment with new Common Core State Standards being implemented statewide.
“It really is a significant thing when someone is nominated unanimously for an award like this,” said Jeff Leffler, MsECA interim executive director. “We wanted to recognize Dr. Darling for her leadership in helping develop new early learning standards and leading such a diverse and highly qualified team through the process. It was a challenging and important task.”
Before joining UM in August 2012, Darling was director of the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University. She is among three expert faculty members hired at UM last year with $1.2 million in external funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson to develop a new undergraduate endorsement and master’s degree in the field at the university.
Besides her teaching duties, Darling is involved in Tallahatchie Early Learning Alliance, a project of the Rock River Foundation operated by Early Childhood Institute. Partners in the project include the UM Harper Center for Educational Research and Evaluation, the Children’s Defense Fund and ICS Head Start.
Darling is helping identify and align pre-K through third-grade curricula within the East and West Tallahatchie County School Districts with funding from a grant from the Annenburg Foundation.
“I’m working with two school districts specifically, but the countywide project is comprehensive,” she explained. “The people involved in this project are looking at whole communities. They’re providing one-on-one development with staff development for teachers and working with private child care providers and finding ways to support families. There are so many elements involved in developing the whole child. It’s a very big, long-term project.”
SECA is a regional professional organization with more than 20,000 members in 14 states. Darling will receive the award Jan. 18 at the annual SECA conference in Williamsburg, Va.