Huilan Krenn, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Literacy and school preparedness, birth through grade 3

CONTACT: hyk@wkkf.org, 269-968-1611

IP TAKE: Krenn understands that early childhood education is not contained within classroom walls, and approaches her mission with a holistic outlook, concentrating on family engagement and policy as well as on effective teaching.

PROFILE: It's a scary question: Are our lives' trajectories really determined for us by the time we are 8 years old? In some ways, the answer to that question is yes. According to a National Institute for Early Education Outreach publication, some 73 percent of children who enter fourth grade at a first or second grade reading level never catch up to their peers in terms of reading abilities. And not being able to read well by the end of third grade is an early indicator that a child will drop out of high school, putting the kid at greater risk for unemployment, incarceration, and poverty later in life.

It stands to reason, then, that improving American education through third grade could have tremendous impacts on outcomes for our children in the years to come. Fortunately for the future of American society, Dr. Huilan Krenn, program officer on the Education and Learning team at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, is concentrating of improving education for children from birth through third grade. 

Krenn immigrated to the United States from China. Among her first steps to acquaint herself with her new country was to read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, a book published in 1980 that tells the story of America's foundation and development from the point of view of the non-elites—American Indians, women, blacks, immigrants, laborers, and other people who, despite their roles in shaping this nation, tend to be underrepresented (or misrepresented) in American history textbooks.

Motivated by Zinn's stories, Krenn has committed herself to seeking out projects that empower traditionally marginalized populations. As one example, Krenn contacted Julie Cajune, director of development at Nkwusm, a Salish language school in Arlee, Montana, and together the women devised a project to further American Indian representation in American society. The three-year project, to which the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has granted $1.4 million, will establish the American Indian Center for Policy and Applied Research. Among the Center's initial goals: write an American history book from the American Indian perspective, to help better inform how Indian history is taught in American schools.

In addition to her work with Cajune, Krenn has a wide range of other ongoing projects at Kellogg. The grants Krenn oversees are devoted to improving educational opportunities and environments for children ages 8 and younger. Krenn particularly likes projects that incorporate parents into childhood education. In an Education News interview, Krenn stated, "...I am focused on making grants to organizations that encourage parents to use that bond to foster in their children the love of reading and lifelong learning." 

As part of the Kellogg Foundation's Raising A Reader program, some 110,000 preschool children at 2,500 locations across the country have books delivered to their homes every week so that parents and young children can read together. Through the program, Krenn aims to reduce disparities in achievement between low-income, minority children and their higher-income, white peers. She's the type of program officer who passionately discusses literacy work as a imperative movement, put Krenn also makes it very clear that she and Kellogg expect quantitative and evidence-based proof of a program's effectiveness.

In her role as philanthropy expert, Krenn recognizes the societal impacts that individual failures or successes can have. In discussing early education for English-language learners (ELLs), or children who are learning English as a non-primary language when they enter elementary school, Krenn notes the importance of public support for childhood language development, literacy, and education. "American culture tends to individualize problems," Krenn says, "but when it comes to educational success for ELLs, we need institution-, system-, and policy-level solutions."