Jeff Schnaufer | First 5 LA Writer/Editor

November 17, 2022

An historic day for First 5 LA dawned on Nov. 10 with the Board of Commissioners approval of a new executive director, new refinements to the agency’s 2020-28 Strategic Plan and the bittersweet sunset of two leadership legacies. 

The gathering marked the last Board meeting of outgoing First 5 LA Executive Director Kim Belshé and Commission Chair and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who led the Board’s unanimous approval of Karla Pleitéz Howell as First 5 LA’s new executive director beginning in January.  

“We had 40 highly qualified applicants for the position, but one really rose to the top,” Kuehl said of the choice of former First 5 LA Commissioner Pleitéz Howell, whom Kuehl described as “a relentless advocate for justice and equity and will be able to continue and sharpen First 5 LA’s strategic focus on ensuring that all children reach their full potential to thrive.”   

“Thank you so much,” Pleitéz Howell said to the Board. “I am beyond thrilled. I’m very excited to work with you.”  

Most recently, Pleitéz Howell served as branch chief for the Child Care Development Division within the California Department of Social Services, where she led efforts to develop the Division’s strategic plan and improve administrative efficiencies. Prior to this role, Pleitéz Howell served as director of education, managing director and chief of Policy and Programs at Advancement Project California (now Catalyst California). See her full bio here.  

Belshé announced her intended departure in June of this year, while Kuehl’s term as supervisor and role as First 5 LA chair concludes on Dec. 5.   

Pleitéz Howell thanked Belshé for her 10 years of service as executive director, beginning in December 2022. “You brought the stability that we needed 10 years ago. You created a launchpad to succeed.”  

Pleitéz Howell also expressed her gratitude to Kuehl. “This pandemic challenged First 5 LA and you brought optimism and pushed us when we really needed it.” 


The final board meeting of 2022 featured another milestone Board approval that will impact the agency’s strategic direction and actions in the years ahead. 

Key among these approvals were refinements to the 2020-28 Strategic Plan, which is part of a review and refinement cycle required every three years. 

These refinements, grounded in First 5 LA’s experience and learning with partners, will enable the organization to continue to focus and clarify the work and systems change approach to advance outcomes for children and families in 2023 and beyond.  

At the Nov. 10 meeting, the Board approved Phase 1 refinements of the following elements of the 2020-28 Strategic Plan: 

  • A revised North Star: Every child in Los Angeles County will reach their full developmental potential throughout the critical years of prenatal to age five. 
  • The four results for children and families were refined to an overarching systems change goal: Public systems most critical to children’s development prenatal to 5 advance belonging and justice for communities which experience significant inequities. 
  • Long Term Systems Outcomes were refined from Accessible, Quality, Aligned and Sustainable to Accessible, Equitable, Power Sharing and Financing.  

Further details on these refinements — as well as next steps for the refinement process — are available here.  

In other action, the Board approved the 2023 Policy Agenda, which serves as the authorizing document for First 5 LA’s policy and advocacy work, clarifying the federal, state, and local policy priorities that the organization can engage in. As First 5 LA’s 2020-28 Strategic Plan undergoes its own refinement process, staff recommended the Board approve the continuation of the 2022 Policy Agenda into 2023. 

As a continuation of the 2022 Policy Agenda, the 2023 Policy Agenda will work toward embedding both equity and the need to support children holistically in the context of their families and communities, referred to as the “Whole Child and Whole Family” systems framework, across every First 5 LA policy priority.  

The 2023 Policy Agenda will also continue to focus on closing race-based disparities in health, well-being and opportunity; utilizing full, complete, and available disaggregated data where available to understand which communities face the most significant barriers to resources, and so have the greatest opportunity to benefit from First 5 LA’s policy and systems change efforts; and promoting a holistic system of supports that is language- and culturally- responsive. 

The 2023 Policy Agenda will guide advocacy efforts related to the following policy opportunities: California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (Cal AIM) implementation; Maternal, Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) reauthorization; Child Care Rate Reform; Early Learning Mixed Delivery System and the Whole Child, Whole Family Framework. 

For more details on the 2023 Policy Agenda and advocacy efforts, click here.  

The Board also approved two new agreements, one renewal and a one-time streamlined process for the mid-year revision of the Board-approved FY 22-23 Budget.  Information items before the Board included an update on proposed amendments to bylaws and governance guidelines and an overview and preliminary findings for a 2022 compensation study. For more information, click here for the agenda.   

Farewell, Not Goodbye 

The farewells to Belshé and Kuehl began on a surprisingly musical note. Instead of giving her traditional executive director’s report, Belshé stood up with a microphone and paid tribute to Kuehl with her own rendition of “So Long Farewell” from The Sound of Music. She was accompanied by a chorus of several First 5 LA staffers, who ended the tribute with a spirited song and dance to “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz. This was followed up by a staffer skit of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, the television series in which Kuehl played Zelda Gilroy.  

All of which delighted Kuehl. “How did you know what my favorite musical was?” she said, beaming.  

The merriment was followed by moments of melancholy as commissioners and others weighed in with words of gratitude for Kuehl’s contribution over seven years. 

“This work is urgent and it has mattered and you have never lost sight of that and encouraged us to step up and be bold,” Belshé said to Kuehl.  

“Sheila leaves behind a legacy of light and laughter,” Commissioner Deanne Tilton said.  

Kuehl said her departure from the board was a “farewell” and not a “goodbye,” adding that “I will be thinking a lot of First 5 LA” and referred to herself as a “tribal elder.”  

Belshé and Kuehl were presented with legislative certificates of appreciation from the office of State Senator Sydney Kamlager and Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, as well as plaques containing “word clouds” of praise from First 5 LA staff. Then Executive Vice President of First 5 LA’s Center for Child and Family Impact John Wagner tied the departure of Kuehl and Belshé together with his own words.   

“I’d like to add another two words to describe each of you,” he said. He then referenced the recent Voila Davis movie “Woman King” that follows a group of all-female warriors protecting an African kingdom in the 1800s. “You Sheila, you Kim, have been Woman Kings. You both have been ferocious in what we seek: that all children reach their full potential in their early years.” 

Through her decade of leadership, Belshé set the organization on a policy and systems change path to achieve greater impact for L.A. County’s youngest children and their families, an accomplishment that was applauded by the Board.     

“You have really built First 5 LA into something it never was before,” Kuehl told Belshé. 

“I really honestly can’t see how we would be where we are without you, Kim,” said Commissioner Jacquelyn McCroskey. “To move First 5 LA beyond being a big spender. To be a partner with the County. We can’t do things for our kids without that kind of partnership.” 

“You’re a leader, you’re an innovator, you have the ability to see systems . . . and you’ve elevated DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion),” Commissioner Romalis Taylor told Belshé. 

Then it was Belshé’s turn to say her farewells to the Board. 

“I used to run marathons,” she said. “I learned if you put in the work, you can build the muscle. Mental and physical muscle. This work is a marathon, not a sprint. This work is not easy.” 

“I leave with a lot of optimism,” she added. “When I came onboard, I talked about how lucky I was to be able to do this work. Ten years later, I can still say that. I frankly didn’t know I would be here 10 years, but the work is inspiring, and my colleagues are devoted to making the world a better place. We still have a lot of work to do. This is hard work, but it is work worth doing. I’m confident this organization is on the right path.” 

Belshé had a few final words for Pleitéz Howell.  

“I’m confident in Karla,” she said. “With your deep advocacy chops and your deep devotion to DEI, I’m confident you will take First 5 LA to the next level.”  

Kuehl echoed this confidence in Pleitéz Howell.   

Said Kuehl: “There IS joy in Mudville.” 

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