Educational First Steps (EFS), whose mission is to improve the availability of quality early childhood education for economically disadvantaged children, has named Van Sheets as its new executive director. He succeeds John Breitfeller, who is retiring from the position after leading EFS’s growth to serve 6,000 children daily across the Dallas/Fort Worth region, by helping child care centers raise their quality through becoming nationally accredited preschools.
Sheets said, “I’m looking forward to helping EFS further its mission to provide even more access for our youngest children to quality early childhood education, thus giving them a solid foundation that will help them reach their potential.”
Brett Kirstein, EFS board chairman, said, “After interviewing many qualified people, we selected Van because of his passion for the organization, his background in educational endeavors, his successful business career leading multiple organizations and his relationships in the North Texas community. The fact that he has had an opportunity to learn about EFS by briefly serving as a board member is a plus.”
Sheets began his career as a consultant with Price Waterhouse and has been a successful CEO across diverse industries. He led dramatic growth of an international petrochemical company, recently renamed Rain Carbon, and led the national expansion of Yamas Controls. He has co-founded companies in e-commerce and building technology and served as a board member of early-stage companies in several industries.
During his career, Sheets has held volunteer leadership roles in social sector organizations, particularly in the areas of education and economic opportunity, in Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco as well as Dallas/Fort Worth. He is active with several civic organizations, including the GroundFloor social innovation accelerator of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the board of ScholarShot, an innovative nonprofit that dramatically increases at-risk students’ college completion rates, and the board of the Maverick YPO chapter. He has volunteered in The Episcopal Church nationally and as a leader at Saint Michael and All Angels Church.
After growing up in a small town in the North Carolina mountains and attending local public schools, Sheets earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in economics from Duke, and an MBA from Harvard University, where he co-founded a consulting firm through which MBA students volunteered as consultants to hundreds of Boston-area nonprofits.
Sheets believes that his own most important education was from birth to kindergarten. He said, “My mom is a retired second grade teacher, and I now realize that my play as a child sort of followed her lesson plans for us. That age is critical to a child’s development, which is why I’m passionate about this new role in education.”
He is married to Brenda, and together, they have three adult daughters.
On November 17, EFS will hold its fifth annual One Childhood One Chance luncheon with guest speaker Sonia Manzano, “Maria” of Sesame Street, at Omni Dallas Hotel where many will be able to meet Sheets. Co-chairs are sisters Merry Munson Wyatt, Kathryn Munson Beach and Meg Munson McGonigle. Honorary co-chairs are David Jr., Charles and John Munson, cousins of the co-chairs. For information, contact Judy Schecter at JSchecter@educationalfirststeps.org or 214.824.7940.
EFS partners with 93 daycare centers in at-risk neighborhoods, carrying out a results-driven program for becoming nationally accredited preschools, at no cost to the centers, teachers or parents. These centers progress from daycares providing little more than babysitting to nationally accredited early education centers that become anchors in their neighborhoods, while preparing more children for school and life success. About 6,000 at-risk children ages birth to 5 years old are receiving quality early education because of EFS’ investment. EFS, which started in south Dallas, has grown to serve Tarrant, Denton, Johnson, Collin and Grayson counties, collaborating across 22 school districts. More information can be found at http://educationalfirststeps.org/.