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Leilani Dela Cruz Announced as DEEL Early Learning Division Director

DEEL recently announced Leilani Dela Cruz as the new director of the department’s Early Learning Division, which supports efforts around ensuring that all Seattle families have access to affordable child care and all Seattle children are kindergarten ready. Leilani joined DEEL at the department’s founding in 2015, serving first as the Early Learning Operations Manager and, most recently, Deputy Division Director. With the departure of former division director Monica Liang Aguirre in May of 2022, Leilani began serving as interim division director while a competitive hiring process was conducted.

DEEL conducted a national search and considered a diverse candidate pool before selecting Dela Cruz for this important role within the department. With more than 70 staff and a $65 million budget, the Early Learning Division Director is responsible for directing and managing City investments in early learning, including the Seattle Preschool Program, Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) classrooms, the Child Care Assistance Program, and multiple investments in the prenatal-to-three space, such as partnerships for ParentChild+, Nurse Family Partnership, Developmental Bridge Program, and Prenatal-to-Three community grants. The EL Director also plays an essential role in developing strategic partnerships with key stakeholders in early learning, including labor and community partners; Seattle Public Schools; federal, state, and county government entities; and elected officials.

Dela Cruz shared, “While I have been in the early learning field for over twenty years, I am both excited and humbled to have a more visible leadership role. I believe in leveraging the talent and expertise that exists among our staff and among our provider community in order to do what’s best for kids and families.  I am also excited that we all have a shared goal around equity and how we can better support those furthest from educational justice.”

Early Learning Division Director Dela Cruz shares about City investments in South Seattle’s early learning community in a recent Converge Media feature.

Leilani began her career as a social worker coordinating early intervention services for infants and toddlers in Guam before moving to Washington state, where she worked for both Puget Sound Educational Service District and King County before joining the City. Prior to joining DEEL, Leilani worked for Seattle’s Human Services Department in the Youth and Family Empowerment Division, providing strategy and program management for early learning investments.

One of DEEL’s early learning partners in both the Child Care Assistance Program and Seattle Preschool Program, Tiny Tots CEO Angelia Maxie, shared this about Leilani and her relationship to the early learning community: “Leilani has always served as an advocate for children and families, but she also understands the value in supporting the overall child care system. I can attest that she can be counted on to provide honest feedback, respond in a timely manner, and give non-biased analysis while working to mitigate industry policy concerns.” 

Leilani is known and loved at DEEL as a diehard Mariners and Seahawks fan and has been known to liven up her meetings with sports-related icebreakers, Zoom backgrounds, and post-game commentary. She’s also famous for her love of Top Pot donuts, Filipino food, and pre-pandemic DEEL potlucks.

DEEL Early Learning Division Director Leilani Dela Cruz (Left) and Child Care Manager Melissa Bookwalter (Right) share their appreciation for early learning providers who served children and families throughout the COVID-19 pandemic at a March 2021 vaccine clinic for child care and youth workers.