NEW PORT RICHEY — Almost eight years ago, New Port Richey child psychologist Steven Kanakis joined the board of the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties to change perceptions of autism. When his son Alec, who has autism, was young, finding a child care program that would accept him was nearly impossible.
“We were trying to find child care and every time we said he was autistic no one would take him so I got on the board to change the perception so these kids could be served,” Kanakis said. “We instituted quality programs with the emphasis on inclusion so we provide support services to the child care centers for students with disabilities.”
In 2008, Kanakis put in an application to become chair of the board of directors and never retracted it. The term of the previous chair, Lisa Hammond, ended April 30, 2013, but Gov, Rick Scott took no action on the applications until earlier this year when rumors started circulating that previous applicants were being contacted.
“I told my wife a good story about it and she said: ‘You’re full of bologna. You never talked to any governor,’ ” Kanakis said, laughing.
Kanakis’ term will last three years. Although unpaid, Kanakis expects to dedicate as much time to it as he does his current job of being a self-employed forensic psychologist in New Port Richey. He is considered an expert in the field of clinical psychology in adult criminal court, juvenile criminal court, dependency court, probate court and family court. Kanakis also performs evaluations for disability determination, rehabilitation training,and learning disabilities.
Kanakis quit child psychology after Alec was born.
“Ethically, I couldn’t purse that anymore; it became too upsetting,” Kanakis said. “I was helping other people’s children and was having a hard time helping my own.”
The early learning movement is a recent one, Kanakis said. Only in the past 10 years has there been an emphasis on it in the United States. In India, children are taught English starting at the age of 2. Japan begins that young with math.
“It’d be great to see that develop here in the states and provide our kids a topnotch education so they’re able to succeed at a much higher level later on,” Kanakis said.
The Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties is one of 30 Early Learning Coalitions in Florida. It works to ensure that programs and services are available to assist families with young children. Programs like Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program are for all children who are 4 years old on or before Sept. 1 and “School Readiness,” providing subsidized child care for low-to-moderate income working families, work to support the mission of early learning.
Starting as separate organizations in 2000, Pasco and Hernando counties joined forces to form the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties in 2005. The nonprofit serves more than 9,000 children between infancy and 8 years old, working with more than 300 providers in the counties.
James J. Farrelly, the coalition’s executive director, noted: “Doctor Kanakis has a long record of contributing to the Coalition. As past chair of the board’s quality committee, Doctor Kanakis consistently emphasized the value of direct spending for both children and Early Learning providers. I expect that interest will continue and expand.”
Kanakis said he hopes to continue the great work done by his predecessors, especially in the areas of curriculum and program development.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve gone from centers putting on televisions and strapping kids in a chair to actual education. By kindergarten kids should know their alphabet and many don’t, even though many of the toys are based around the alphabet with nice, shiny letters.”
Also, receiving appointments by Scott were local business owners James A. Cook of Pasco and Elizabeth Narverud of Hernando. Cook fills a vacant governor-appointed seat though April 30, 2015, and Narverud fills a vacant governor-appointed seat through April 30, 2016.
For more information about the board of directors visit www.phelc.org.
You can follow Daylina Miller on Twitter at @DaylinaMiller.