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PowerPlayer: Elizabeth Burke Bryant

Monday, April 11, 2011


If you pay attention to children’s policy at all in this state, you know Elizabeth Burke Bryant. The Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Bryant spends her days working to improve the health, education, economic well being and safety of children throughout the Ocean State.

KIDS COUNT recently released is annual Factbook and the East Greenwich resident spent some time chatting with GoLocalProv about her work and the shocking numbers in the year’s Factbook.

1) Take us through a day in your life.

I wake up early, read the news, head in to our office which is located in the Rhode Island Foundation building in downtown Providence, meet with Kids Count staff (who are all talented, dedicated child advocates), attend outside meetings on children’s issues at state agencies or at other nonprofit organizations, sometimes head to the State House for a hearing, and often attend community events related to children and youth in the evenings.

2) You just released the latest KIDS COUNT Factbook. What statistics most stand out and why?

Given the recession, what stood out were the statistics related to children’s economic circumstances, including the 38,000 children living below the poverty line, and the 996 children who were identified as being homeless by public school personnel. On the positive side Rhode Island is ranked first (best) in the nation for the child death rate and second best in the nation for the teen death rate. We also have 92% of children covered by health insurance.

3) You've made reading proficiency a top priority. While the numbers have gone up, they are still incredibly low, especially in the inner city. In a time of budget cuts and teacher layoffs, what can we do to ensure test scores continue to rise? 

If we want to increase the number of youth who graduate from high school and go on to the college or career training they need to compete in this economy, we need to increase reading proficiency across the board. Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is essential for children’s later success in school and life. During the past five years, Rhode Island has made progress in terms of fourth grade reading proficiency which is good news, but this progress needs to continue and to accelerate in order to close the significant achievement gap that exists between higher income and lower income students (80% of Rhode Island’s higher income students are reading proficiently by fourth grade compared to 56% of low income students). Continued progress will require that schools (and community partners) use proven strategies to intervene early and help struggling readers catch up to their peers.

4) What's the most difficult part of your job?

Juggling our work on the wide range of issues that we focus on and wanting to see progress on all of the issues that we track related to child well-being.

5) If you could change one thing about Rhode Island, what would it be? 

Closing the achievement gap and having the nation’s best public schools for all students.

6) Tell us something nobody knows about you. 

Favorite drink is a coffee Awful Awful

Quick Hitters

Role Model: My late father, Ed Burke, former Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission

Favorite Restaurant: The Black Pearl

Best Beach: Second Beach

Best Book You've Read In The Last Year: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Advice For The Next Elizabeth Burke Bryant: Be persistent. 


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