Impact Spotlight: Pyper Davis

If you had never spoken with Pyper Davis, you may think that her professional bio reads as a corporate fairytale; after all, she holds degrees from Princeton and Harvard, and has worked in finance and media at prestigious organizations such as Morgan Stanley and Fox Sports. However, what is most interesting about Pyper’s story is her current work - one that is worlds away from Corporate America, yet allows her to use the skills developed during her early professional years. Pyper is currently the Executive Director of Educare Washington DC, an early childhood education school built to serve the children and families of Washington, D.C.

On the surface, Educare can appear as a similar organization to the Lourie Center, our spotlight from a few weeks back and a panelist at our next Pomona Society event on June 13. However, the difference between the two organizations lies in their target student. While the Lourie Center works primarily with young children across socioeconomic levels in recovery from traumatic events and/or developmental setbacks, Educare DC’s students exclusively come from low-income families who are struggling with the challenges of multi-generational poverty. Each organization serves an equally important sector of Washington, D.C.

Educare Washington, DC is located in Ward 7, where 88% of infants and toddlers live in concentrated poverty. Yet the appearance of poverty is utterly absent from the moment a child, parent, or visitor enters the school’s glass doors. The light and spacious building sets the tone for the level of education that its pupils receive - world-class instruction designed to propel students into success, removing barriers that children of more stable backgrounds never had to confront. Furthermore, Educare DC is one in a network of more than twenty schools spread across the nation. Believing that there is power in numbers, the Educare Learning Network provides shared expertise among its educators, researchers, and policymakers. This network is a leader in quality of service to low-income infants, toddlers, and their families.

Pyper Davis didn’t make the transition from Corporate America to education without extensive forethought; in actuality, working within America’s education system on behalf of society’s disadvantaged has been her dream for a long time - though for many years it was a dream deferred. Growing up in a Michigan public school system, she assumed early on that each of her peers had access to the quality of education that she had. However, after her high school graduation, circumstances and life led to the realization that she had believed in a myth; though she was blessed with an excellent public school education, many had not been similarly advantaged. This awareness led to a commitment to one day affect positive change in the country’s public education system.

Fast forward fifteen years, extensive professional experience, and a family move to Washington, D.C. Pyper had spent extensive volunteer time in school programs, but at her husband’s encouragement she finally made the career jump. As many of us who have made career switches know, there is a level of fear that perpetuates such a transition. Pyper was no exception. She knew that she was not an educator; instead, her interests lay in creating systems change. This specification, alongside her commitment to work within education for low-income students, narrowed her job search, ultimately resulting in a nine-month process before landing at The SEED Foundation. She spent the next eleven years at the foundation, where she helped build the nation’s only network of public, college-preparatory, boarding schools. Yet, she desired to focus on the earliest years of a child’s education - ultimately leading her to taking on the opportunity at Educare DC.

Educare is more than just an education center for young children. In fact, it’s more than just an education center for low-income children. Instead, it approaches its work holistically; the network is involved in education on three fronts - tangible classroom engagement, research, and policy. No single objective carries more weight than the others, because Educare understands at an intimate level that viable change within the education system, or leveling the playing field for all children, will not happen without all three aspects of the industry working together in unison. Furthermore, the network is designed to be both internally sustainable - Pyper has peers around the country from whom she can gain coaching and share ideas - and externally impactful through local partnership and training. The network currently has twenty-three schools and counting.

Educare is leading the way in training outside professionals in its research and methods. In early 2017, the organization began offering its internal training to external attendees. Since then, they estimate to have trained 100 professionals who have gone on to influence thousands of children’s lives. In addition, Educare DC strongly believes in investing in its workforce - positioning them as key to it’s impact and sustainability. Thus, in both its trainings and policy work, Educare is committed to empowering the educators by emphasizing the value of this workforce dominated by women.

But its policy work does not stop there. Unbelievably, within Washington, D.C., there is a shortage of about fifteen thousand “seats” for infants and toddlers (0-3 years old). In particular for low-income children, this may mean unlicensed, ill-equipped or potentially unsafe circumstances for children, ultimately hindering a child’s mental and emotional development or limiting their parents ability to work. This gap has occurred for a number of reasons: the infant and toddler population is the fastest-growing age group in the city; caregivers compose a small and often underpaid workforce; and Washington, D.C.’s high rents and strict zoning rules make the operations of a childcare center challenging to say the least.

Washington, D.C. and the nation as a whole currently faces a crucial question - how do we promote family growth through the creation of accessible, affordable, and high-quality childcare? The continuation of this unanswered question is an answer in and of itself - our society will suffer if raising healthy and educated children are not a top priority. But solving this dilemma is difficult and requires a hard look at the fragmented and under-resourced childcare system. No longer can the care of our most important responsibility, our children, be perpetuated on the backs of underpaid, poorly supported women who commonly earn poverty-level wages. No longer can childcare continue at its current unaffordable prices (In Washington, D.C., the cost per child for infant to toddler care is nearly $23,000 each year). No longer can legislation intended to empower holistic childcare practices go unfunded. Mayor Bowser of Washington, D.C. has been an advocate of improving childcare, having created and/or expanded many childcare centers and reduced and/or eliminated rent for childcare centers. However, all this is in process, parents must persist with high costs and long waitlists.

Pomona Society members can contribute to improvements in D.C.’s childcare system  by raising awareness for the issue - asking questions about organizational childcare policies, gaining information on current legislation, and talking with friends and coworkers about the crisis within D.C. and society-at-large when it comes to childcare. Finally, schedule a tour of Educare Washington, D.C. to get an on-the-ground understanding of the transformative work occurring across the Anacostia River.

Pyper Davis, Executive Director
As executive director, Pyper Davis is responsible for overall leadership of Educare Washington, DC, including the partnership, policy and funding strategies. Ms. Davis joined Educare DC in September 2014. Previously, she spent more than 10 years as the chief operating officer of The SEED Foundation, where she helped build the nation's only network of public, college-preparatory boarding schools. Prior to joining SEED, Ms. Davis spent nine years in the television business, primarily as an executive with The News Corporation, working in both a strategic and operational capacity in London, New York, Los Angeles and Asia. While at News Corp., she helped create two successful joint ventures in Asia, launched and managed operations for Fox's new cable sports business, Fox Sports Net, and served as president of a cable network, FIT TV. After leaving News Corp., she provided consulting and private equity fundraising for early-stage technology companies as a principal with Katalyst LLC. Ms. Davis started her career as a financial analyst with Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc. She has a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. She served as a trustee of Princeton University from 2011-2015.
Abigail Skeans