Brooklyn Kindergarten Society appoints new executive director to provide ‘equal first step’ in early childhood education

Ashley Williams brooklyn kindergarten society
Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, an early childhood education center, has named Dr. Ashley Williams as executive director.
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society/By Jada Camille

The Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, an early childhood education center in Weeksville, has appointed a longtime leader at the organization as executive director.

Dr. Ashley Williams, who school officials said is known as a champion for students and families, stepped into her role on June 12. The new exec previously served as BKS’ Deputy Director of Family and Community Engagement. As executive director, Williams will steer BKS’ $9.5 million annual budget, its seven education centers, and a teaching staff that serves hundreds of budding young minds.

“I’m humbled to lead an organization dedicated to leveling the playing field for young learners,” Williams said in a statement. “I’m excited to work alongside the BKS team and families to continue paving the way for an equal first step in education.”

Before joining the team, Williams spent over 15 years in teaching and leadership roles in K-12 charter and independent schools and in early childhood settings. She grew up in Atlanta’s inner city, where she said witnessed the devastating impact of educational and economic disparities on black and brown communities. 

Brooklyn Kindergarten Society sensory gym
BKS staff in the school’s Sensory Gym. Photo by Jada Camille

And it’s those childhood experiences that fuel her passion for providing access and opportunity to young children and their families, Williams said. 

BKS has been a beacon of excellence in early childhood education for 133 years, providing free preschool to immigrant and working families. The organization’s innovative curriculum combines reading and writing with STEAM learning, while its Music & Movement Program brings dance, tennis, violin, and yoga lessons to all students.

In May 2023, BKS broke ground with its groundbreaking sensory gym at the Weeksville Gardens Children’s Center. The gym provides occupational therapy for students with learning differences, developmental delays and those on the autism spectrum.

“This is one of those services that is critical to the long-term development of students pre-pandemic but even more so because of the pandemic. It was really important for us to open this sensory gym and see the value it has on our students,” John H. Linder Jr., director of development and communications for BKS, told Brooklyn Paper. 

The center is set up like a vibrant jungle gym with colorful blocks, bean bags, swings and more. Each session is built around the child’s individual learning needs and is led by trained occupational therapists. 

Colleen O’Neill and Angelique Santos, two of the center’s therapists, help the little minds develop play skills and form proper cognitive behavioral, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills through free play, group activities or one-on-one sessions. 

John H Linder Jr, Colleen O’Neill and Angelique Santos pose for a picture in the gym where the therapists work with students every day.
John H. Linder Jr, Colleen O’Neill and Angelique Santos pose for a picture in the gym where the therapists work with students every day. Photo by Jada Camille

“Some of the work is breaking down stigmas and stereotypes that people have about kids and learning,” Linder said. “Kids aren’t bad, they just don’t know if they learn the same way as everybody else so they may be acting out differently. It’s helping bridge that gap.”

The gym’s service doesn’t stop there. Therapists even offer in-class help. Every classroom has a sensory box filled with tools such as headphones, fidgets, and other materials to help children regulate their emotions and behaviors. These boxes are designed to help teachers support students who may need extra help managing their sensory experiences.

“As students progress in their education, they’re able to advocate for themselves from now through high school and college,” Linder said.  “Ideally that’s the goal. To give parents and students the tools they need to be able to take care of themselves.”