#1 Pre-conference event: The case for transforming urban segregated communities and the role of schools and early learning centers in this process

The case for transforming urban segregated communities and the role of schools and early learning centers in this process 

Offered by Trust for Social Achievement Foundation 


Hosts: Trust for Social Achievement Foundation 

Date: October 22, 2024  

Time: 10:30 - 13:30 

Location: Millenium Sofia Grand Hotel, Newton Hall

Access the agenda here. 


Description and Learning Objectives 

There is a growing body of evidence around the impact of factors in the natural and built environment – for example clean air, playgrounds, safe housing, and access to quality services – on child health, learning achievements, and life outcomes. Schools and kindergartens are important local institutions and have opportunities to contribute to improving the conditions in the community. Structural inequities, such as policies deprioritizing educational infrastructure investment in poor urban ethnic minority neighborhoods, need to be challenged so that adults can be adequately supported to develop secure and responsive relationships with children from an early age. In other words, to transform the outcomes of young children living in poverty, we need to transform the places they grow up in and the services they have access to within their communities, including high quality early care and education. 


What you will learn 

Join us for an exciting interactive event as we explore, together with scientists from the USA and Bulgaria, the advantages of investing in high quality education within poor urban ethnic minority neighborhoods, with a focus on the early years. Be inspired by the experiences of two American schools aiming to move beyond academic excellence and towards community transformation: 

  • What does the latest scientific research tell us about the importance of improving the conditions of places where young children grow up and the services available to them there? 

  • How can we interpret these conclusions in the context of Bulgaria’s segregated urban Roma neighborhoods? 

  • How can early learning centers and schools act as catalysts for community development? 

  • When early learning centers and schools decide to work toward transforming their communities, which goals do they set for themselves?  What are the critical components of their approach? 

  • How can we make such ideas a reality in our own urban Roma communities? 


What to expect 

The event will comprise two 75-minute sessions, separated by a 30-minute break. During the first, we will discuss theoretical foundations for place-based interventions with James Cairns and Boyan Zahariev. Participants will have the opportunity to assess the resources and conditions in the neighborhoods they serve, as well as the corresponding access to opportunities that children in those neighborhoods have and to then discuss findings.   

During the second half, we will hear inspiring stories from the Epiphany School (Dorchester, MA) and the Lakeland Elementary and Middle School (Baltimore, MD), as well as learn about efforts and plans by the Trust for Social Achievement to invest in community transformation, including in Sofia’s Fakulteta neighborhood. Participants will discuss the presented models at their tables and challenge themselves on which aspects of these models are likely to work in a Bulgarian context and which are within their authority to initiate. 



  • James Cairns is Senior Director for Strategic Engagements and Organizational Learning at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. He leads the Center-wide efforts focused on understanding the early childhood ecosystem, in particular recent research on the impact which places where children live, grow, and learn has on their development and wellbeing.  
  • Boyan Zahariev is program director at the Open Society Institute – Sofia. He holds master’s degrees in South Asian studies and economics, and a PhD in sociology. Boyan has more than 20 years of experience in the field of education and the social integration of Roma in Bulgaria. 

  • Michelle Sanchez, Principal, and Emily Centeio, Director of Family Engagement at the Early Learning Center represent Epiphany School in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a school that truly never gives up on a child. An independent institution, serving children of economically disadvantaged families in Boston, Epiphany offers financial aid for all students and works in close partnership with families to make sure that every child finds its individual gifts and its family thrives.  

  • Sara Krauss is the Director for School Partnerships with the George and Betsy Sherman Center at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. An advocate for educational equity, she supports the partnerships between UMBC and local schools in Baltimore, USA, with the objective to address each community’s specific challenges, learn, and scale the learning to others. 

  • Coralbeth Garcia is the principal of Lakeland Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore. She leads the school on its mission of taking care of the whole child and whole family, which involves multiple partnerships with community organizations to deliver various activities and processes in a way that honors the many different heritages present in its community.  

  • Sarah Perrine is the Chief Executive Officer of the Trust for Social Achievement and will share the Trust’s experiences in building the first ever children’s playground in Fakulteta neighborhood in Sofia. 


Who is this for? 

The event will be relevant to kindergarten and school principals of educational institutions serving segregated communities, non-governmental experts, and representatives from a broad range of institutions working on social inclusion and desegregation.  



Visit the registration pageto reserve your place at this pre-conference event.  This event has a limited number of seats available for participants in the ISSA Conference 2024. To make sure you reserve your seat, register as soon as possible. 

News on the Keynote Speakers will follow soon!