September 20, 2023
  • Redwood City – The County of San Mateo has selected Katharine Sullivan as the director of The Big Lift, an ambitious effort to prepare young learners for success.

    Sullivan comes to the County with more than 20 years of experience in improving educational opportunities and targeting resources to meet community needs. This knowledge will be key as The Big Lift aims to improve literacy with focused services.

    Katharine Sullivan
    Katharine Sullivan

    “Katharine’s extensive background in improving outcomes for children and families will be critical in helping more children to achieve reading proficiency by third grade,” said Claire Cunningham, director of the County’s Human Services Agency.

    Sullivan comes to the County from the city of Berkeley, where she helped to strengthen the social safety net during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also has worked in leadership roles at the San Francisco Unified and West Contra Costa Unified school districts.

    The Big Lift serves about 3,000 children a year in seven school districts with the greatest need for additional resources.

    In summer 2023, administration of The Big Lift transitioned to the Human Services Agency where Sullivan will serve under the agency director. Human Services will partner with the San Mateo County Office of Education, the San Mateo County Libraries, First 5, participating school districts and preschools and a collective of organizations dedicated to The Big Lift's goal of increasing 3rd grade reading proficiency in the county.

    Services are focused around four key pillars: high-quality preschool, summer learning, school attendance and family engagement.

    “I am honored to join San Mateo County and The Big Lift collaborative partners in their commitment to advancing educational equity through evidence-based early literacy and language development strategies.” Sullivan said.

     “As the executive director of The Big Lift, my goal is to strengthen the initiative’s impact through a continuous cycle of quality improvement, the leverage of new and existing resources, and the engagement of stakeholders closely impacted by the initiative including families and educators.”

    The County has budgeted $8.9 million for The Big Lift for the 2023-24 fiscal year. Those funds are mainly distributed to the San Mateo County Office of Education and local districts to improve literacy by third grade, a key indicator of future academic success.

    A native of the Bay Area, Sullivan lives in Oakland with her family. Outside of work, she enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with her two young granddaughters.  As a lifelong learner, she is currently a student of the Spanish language and the game of tennis.

    Sullivan is expected to start her new role on Oct. 2, 2023.

    About The Big Lift:

    • Funding comes from local taxes, state and federal grants and private donations. The bulk of local tax funds come from the voter-approved, countywide Measure K half-cent sales tax.
    • Participating school districts are:
      • South San Francisco Unified School District
      • La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District
      • Jefferson Elementary School District
      • Redwood City School District
      • San Bruno Park School District
      • Ravenswood City School District
      • Cabrillo Unified School District
    • Children in Big Lift programs are more likely to be ready for kindergarten, gain academic skills during the summer, read more and have fewer absences compared to children who don’t attend Big Lift programming.
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    Michelle Durand
    Chief Communications Officer