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Meet Dr. Melanie Johnson of Collaborative for Children in The Heights

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Melanie Johnson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dr. Johnson. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My journey towards being a CEO of a large nonprofit began in my small home town when I was a young girl. Although I did not realize it at the time, my disdain for under-resourced school systems in the Deep South, with rudimentary and rote teaching and learning methods would infuse my lifetime journey with the drive to transform traditional education. I would begin my career journey in international trade at a French freight forwarding firm as a diversion. I did not wish to come to terms with the highly scrutinizing yet seemingly ineffective education system that I had encountered as a child. But my plan was derailed when I began to “volunteer” at a school. I could not help but throw my hat in the ring and apply to save every disenfranchised child in the school. As my career would take me to every conceivable education entity, my life felt truly purposeful and my destiny was crystal clear.

I became head of the department for Remedial Studies at a community college. Unfortunately, this is typically the largest department in many US colleges, and it was definitely the largest and most important where I was department chair. Later, my life would venture to what I considered a diversion of my career path, but I would enter an arena that I could not refuse. I was appointed the Director of Education at NASA’s Space Center Houston. This gave me a tremendous opportunity to teach the entire planet of interested visitors about science. I literally taught space science in the museum industry, where “the sky was the limit.” From there, I was hired as the first African American female to lead a museum in the Houston Museum District. I would serve as the President and CEO of the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science, also known as The Health Museum.

My current post as President and CEO of Collaborative for Children charges me with improving the odds for underserved children from birth to age five to engage in a highly effective early education environment. I am thrilled to have traversed a full array of educational possibilities to assist me with the most inconceivable innovative ideas. I am now truly grateful for my early experiences because they have driven me to create incredible learning opportunities for so many children.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Like any exciting journey, part of the excitement is that one is able to overcome unanticipated obstacles. Many obstacles were self-inflicted. With so few minority females in leadership roles, there are few mentors to forewarn about potential leadership challenges. I was forced to jump right in and learn systems, including complex political systems, alone. I was very unfamiliar with dealing with inequities. I never even assumed racial or gender inequity.

I clearly believed that I was often faced with long-held ideologies that were the result of a “circle of friends” in the workplace. I did not realize the strength of the bond between friends in the workplace who had far more in common with one another than myself. This would lead me to challenge a great deal of roadblocks without the tools or support network necessary for my offense. I have certainly learned over the years from an incredible teacher, called life, that one must know their audience and their network very well before challenging an issue or circumstance. I have also been vigilant and have acquired my share of tools to better navigate lonely seas. They are not so lonely anymore, but the top position remains a place of unbiased neutrality.

Please tell us about Collaborative for Children.
Collaborative for Children is an early childhood education systems entity that began in 1987 in Houston, Texas. The agency is committed to providing children ages 0 to 5 with innovative early learning opportunities to build future leaders. These opportunities foster critical 21st-century skills to achieve school readiness in partnership with parents and educators through our leading-edge business resources and programming. We are unyielding in our focus to provide educational equity for all children. We are architects, using our collective ingenuity to usher in a future bright with possibilities for every child. The agency improves the opportunities for all children to enter school prepared to learn, alongside their counterparts with more robust enrichment.

During these important years of brain development and neural pathway formation, the agency’s staff of more than 100 employees provide coaching to those most influential in the lives of young children. These influencers include early childhood educators, parents and other caregivers, and child care center owners and directors. The agency rates the quality of learning environments for child care centers across the entire 13-county region and seeks to inform families of these children the promising practices for early school success. These successes mitigate early on against school dropout, failing marks and subsequent disenfranchisement with the education system.

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Image Credit:
Al Torres Photography (for the headshot)

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