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A civic leader turns toward early learning: Q & A with incoming CI board member Margaret Kirkpatrick

NW Natural Senior Vice President and General Counsel Margaret Kirkpatrick is the newest member of the Children’s Institute board; her first meeting as an official member will be on Monday. Margaret will be retiring from her position at NW Natural at the end of this year. Before joining the Children’s Institute’s board, Margaret served on the capital committee that helped raise money for Earl Boyles Elementary’s early learning wing, which opened in the fall of 2014. We talked to Margaret about the Oregon early learning landscape, her civic and philanthropic passions, and her incredible travel bug.

KirkpatrickMargaretCI: Why is early learning important to you?

Margaret: I have spent most of my career engaged in public policy issues, most recently regarding the economy of the state. Well, I realized that the foundation of our country is democracy. And in turn, an engaged and educated citizenry is the foundation of democracy.  Finally, early learning is the bedrock of education. From my career experience and my experience as a parent – if you don’t lay the foundation, the rest won’t follow. My daughter works at a Montessori school, and that is another reason early learning is important to me. She loves her work.

CI: Why were you interested in serving on the Children’s Institute board?

Margaret: Ken Thrasher pulled me in, starting with the capital campaign at Earl Boyles. I fell head over heels for it! Plus, when I look at the ideal world and back-map from that, it is the early years that make it all work.

CI: What are you most looking forward to about joining the CI board?

Margaret: I am most looking forward to working with the incredibly talented staff and other board members to make a solid early learning experience available to everyone in Oregon. I also want to get into some of the schools and see some the parent and child interactions. I also sit on the Portland State University board, so it is interesting that I get to see the bookends of education in the state. Some PSU students have had challenges, and I can’t but think that if they had gone to Earl Boyles they would be better equipped. I think of early learning as the seedlings, and of higher education as the harvest. Of course, you aren’t going to have a great harvest unless the seedlings are also great.

CI: What challenges do you think early learning faces in Oregon? What opportunities?

Margaret: Funding! That is a huge challenge. Another challenge is the basic economy – parents are working multiple jobs and experiencing high rates of poverty.

 CI: What can the non-profit community learn from the business sector?

Margaret: I would say there are a range of nonprofit capabilities. In my experience, the best nonprofits have the same degree of professionalism a business has. I started my career in Washington, DC at a nonprofit that was all personality, all mission, with no management structure. Successful nonprofits are run on the same sound principles as businesses: expertise, professionalism, discipline, good management and staffing policies, resources for staff, and regular feedback on their performance.

CI: How else are you involved in civic and philanthropic organizations? How does that involvement reflect your interests?

Margaret: I am on the board of the Nature Conservancy – I am a lifelong environmentalist, and believe we have to take care of and steward the planet. The other three boards I sit on – Portland State University, The Classroom Law Project, and CI – all have to do with education, and encapsulate different pieces of the educational system.

CI: What are some of your other hobbies or passions?

Margaret: I love to travel, entertain friends and family, and hang out with my daughters. I love biking, hiking. Normal boring stuff.

CI: Speaking of traveling abroad… where are you hankering to go next?

Margaret:I am dying to get back to Africa and Southeast Asia. I have a huge travel bug. I also want to go to every nature conservancy holding in Oregon. Most recently I have visited Berlin, Ethiopia, and Paris. This January, I’m going to Mexico as a retirement present!

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