Multnomah County announces hiring of Preschool for All director

March 4, 2021

Press contact:

Ryan Yambra,

Multnomah County’s Department of County Human Services (DCHS) announced Thursday, March 4 it has hired Leslee Barnes to lead the Preschool for All initiative. She will begin directing the Preschool & Early Learning Division in early April. 

Leslee Barnes
Leslee Barnes brings more than 20 years of early childhood experience as an entrepreneur, consultant and public employee.

Voters overwhelmingly passed the Preschool for All ballot measure in November 2020, which will give all 3- and 4-year-old children access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive preschool. The new Preschool & Early Learning Division within will be responsible for implementing the program. 

“Preschool for All is an unprecedented investment in the lives of young children, their families, and the early childhood programs who serve them,” said Barnes. “I am thrilled to build and lead a team at Multnomah County responsible for supporting equitable outcomes for all children in our community and quality preschool in diverse early learning settings.”

“Leslee’s years of work as an early childhood expert, businesswoman and an equity leader will serve us well as we undertake this historic effort to extend early education to every child in Multnomah County,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury. 

With more than 20 years of experience working in early childhood education, Barnes brings extensive knowledge to the director role. Barnes started her own childcare business in 1999 and used that experience to support other educators and entrepreneurs through her role as an early education consultant at Child Care Resource and Referral of Multnomah County. 

As a consultant, Barnes led the African-American Focused Child Care Network and provided individualized and group technical assistance to providers. Barnes' leadership and work has focused on racial justice and equity, including as the founding board chair of Black Child Development PDX. 

Most recently, Barnes worked at the State of Oregon’s Early Learning Division. She is also a veteran of the United States Army and holds a bachelor’s degree from Warner Pacific College.

Preschool for All will draw on Barnes’ experience as a racial justice and equity leader to prioritize families with the greatest obstacles to early education, including: 

  • Black, Brown, Indigenous, and all children of color

  • Migrant and refugee children

  • Children whose families live under the Self-Sufficiency Standard

  • Children who speak languages other than English

  • Children with developmental delays and disabilities

  • Children of teen parents, or in military families

  • Children living in foster care

  • Children from families affected by homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, mental health issues, and domestic violence

Families will be able to apply for slots in early 2022 and preschoolers will begin learning in September 2022. The program will grow each year, until it reaches universal access in 2031. While capacity is limited, families who currently have the least access to high quality preschool will be prioritized.

“As a preschool provider, a small business owner, a woman of color, and a public employee, Leslee will be instrumental in leading the rollout of Preschool for All,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who championed the initiative. “I’m excited to continue to work with Leslee to bring quality, universal, free preschool to our families.”