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From Never Wanting Children To Early Childhood Advocate In Kansas City

Michelle Tyrene Johnson
KCUR 89.3
Watson shows off one of books donated to Turn The Page KC where she works.

Setting children up for academic success is Annie Watson’s driving passion.

The Kansas City, Missouri, native is the director of early education and parent success at Turn the Page KC, a non-profit that aims to have all children reading at grade level by third grade.

Watson, 31, also helps lead the Parent Leadership Training Institute, which helps train parents for advocacy, and assisted in organizing Mayor Sly James’ series of conversations about race and equity. Watson is an advocate for high-quality early education and was one of the architects of putting a sales tax on the ballot in Kansas City to finance it. The measure failed in April's municipal primary.

Watson is also married with three children and one on the way.

We sat down with Annie Watson to understand how her personal story connects with her work.

MICHELLE TYRENE JOHNSON: When you were younger, did you plan to go into education?

ANNIE WATSON: I didn’t ever intend to be in education. I, in fact, didn’t like children when I was younger. I’m an only child. And the thought of young children really scared me.

Credit Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Watson enjoys time with family at the playground at the end of a work and school day.

JOHNSON: How would describe the work that you do in education?

WATSON: I really found my niche being able to talk passionately about classroom issues in a way that we can make some policy and systems-level change to better serve children and families.

JOHNSON: How has being an Asian American woman played a role in the work you do?

WATSON: There’s this fine balance between recognizing that other people use my model minority status to check a box and me leaning hard into that to create space for others to come with me and after me.

JOHNSON: Why do you think pre-K education is a national issue?


WATSON: If you’re not reading proficiently by third grade the likelihood that you graduate from high school is sufficiently less. The likelihood that you’re incarcerated will be increasingly higher. You could pick any number of 10 or 12 different statistics and you could trace it back to third-grade reading proficiency scores.

So, the vision is for all children, the reality is, that we have systemic inequality that manifests itself in education systems and in schools and in classrooms and in ways that we have to disrupt and change to get to that larger vision.

JOHNSON: What comes next for you after the ballot defeat?

WATSON: My work stays the same. We will dig deeper into what best practice can look like, what we want for our city, what that means for kids and continue to come up with solutions for how we can get there.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Hartford, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon. She can be contacted at michelle@kcur.org.          

Michelle is a reporter covering race, identity and culture and is an assistant talk show producer.
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