On my last day as Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund, I’m acutely aware of both the changes we’ve seen and the changes we hope lie ahead. I hope you’ll indulge one last reflection, and a final rallying cry.

Bolstered by your experiences, policy recommendations and advocacy zeal, we saw in the last four years the first real expansion of Early Head Start, slight upward mobility in Head Start investment after a decade of flat-funding, and establishment of the first ever federal funding stream supporting early learning systems building. Was it enough? Not even close. Still, it’s been a wild but also wildly productive four years.

The progress we’ve made, while substantial, also feels precarious. Take, for example, current rumors that another round of a state-based systems-building is not in the offing in this year’s $550 million FY12 Race to the Top appropriation. We of course think that’s a disappointing, counter-productive, short-sighted approach that would kill momentum and needlessly limit what exciting progress already has been made by 37 state applicants to seismically improve quality for at-risk children. We’re trying to be polite and understated, as you can see.

Thanks to you and your outreach, Congress is speaking up. More than 50 members of Congress wrote Secretaries Arne Duncan (Dept. of Ed) and Kathleen Sebelius (Dept. of Health & Human Services) urging them to fund Round Two of the Early Learning Challenge this year. We may not have the brawn of other fields but together our roar can be mighty. We also must continue to keep up pressure for core federal early learning programs that seem destined to face profound budget challenges in the year ahead.

I’m leaving FFYF in capable hands of teams in Chicago and DC who will continue to keep you informed. Lucinda Fickel, Special Projects Manager at FFYF and a gorgeous writer, will author these updates (lfickel@ffyf.org). Shiek Pal has seamlessly and energetically jumped into his role as Director of Policy and Government Relations (spal@ffyf.org). Deborah Epstein, who has long served as an able consultant to the First Five Years Fund, will step in as interim Executive Director starting tomorrow (depstein@ffyf.org). Please continue to provide them the helpful feedback and encouragement that you’ve been so kind to share with me. The official search for my successor will get underway in the coming weeks.

When I got the phone call five years ago urging me to “change my life” and leave journalism to take this position, I had no idea it would be so fun or this rewarding. Starting tomorrow, I’ll become a full-time mom – at least for a while – to two young sons who have been patiently urging more fun and rewards with them at home. I’ll deeply miss FFYF, but it’s where I belong now.

For all your insights and inspiration, thank you.