For some parents, the search for a Child Development Center (CDC) begins shortly after they learn they are expecting. Parents want to give their children the best start in life and that includes providing their children with the best early childhood education available. However, there are factors which can impede them from finding a high-quality center for their child.
The State of Texas has implemented a quality improvement rating system for CDCs, the Texas Rising Star (TRS). According to the TRS website, this program is “a voluntary, quality-based child care rating system of child care providers participating in the Texas Workforce Commission’s subsidized child care program.”
TRS is a quality rating tool which includes three levels of quality: 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star, with 4-stars being the highest level of TRS certification. CDCs are limited within our city, and many have long waitlists; therefore, parents often opt for a closer, uncertified center for the first years of their child’s life.
Currently, 89% of CDCs are not certified in San Antonio. Family-owned, corporate, and faith-based CDCs need support to provide a high-quality education that each child deserves.
The minimum benchmark for child care centers is through the Texas Health and Human Services Minimum Standards for Child Care Centers.
“Centers need to adhere to all minimum licensing standards,” said Janet Henry, professional learning specialist with Pre-K 4 SA. “However, they often have too many deficiencies or critical deficiencies which prevent them from becoming TRS certified.”
In 2016, Pre-K 4 SA saw the need to support CDCs in San Antonio to increase the quality of the centers. Pre-K 4 SA responded by creating a grants program that included CDCs. In its first year, 13 centers were chosen to receive funding through a competitive grants program after responding to a request for proposal for the academic years of 2016-18. The second group of nine centers was recently chosen to receive funding for the 2019-21 academic years, with a new requirement that the centers must be nationally accredited or TRS certified.
In early 2019, Pre-K 4 SA also began a Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) Cohort, specifically targeting centers throughout the city that would like to become TRS certified. Directors attended monthly meetings to understand and apply the standards at their sites. Funding was provided to several of the centers to assist them in pursuing TRS certification. A new cohort of interested participants began in September 2019.
Northwood Presbyterian Day School is a participant and awardee of the CQI Cohort and Request for Proposals. After an intensive application and interview process, the center began receiving its grant in July 2018. Shortly after, Janet Henry became its professional learning mentor to start preparing the center for the TRS assessment.
Pre-K 4 SA determines the necessities of each center by using an internal High-Quality Impact Pyramid Tool. This pyramid is compared to a nutritional pyramid where the vital, high-quality, foundational practices are located at the bottom, and they are referred to as tiers. Tier 1 is Program Features and Staff Qualifications and starts allocating grant funds in this area. Tier 2 consists of Instructional Quality and Physical Learning Environments. Tier 3 involves Family Engagement and Outreach, and finally, Tier 4 brings Innovation.
As the centers progress, the High-Quality Impact Pyramid Tool allows them to be considered to receive assistance in the higher tiers, and gives them the opportunity to raise their center’s overall quality.
For the past year, Northwood Presbyterian Day School has made modifications and has developed new practices. Frog Street was adopted as the center’s formal curriculum. While the majority of the funds was used to remodel the school’s current playground into an outdoor learning classroom, the grant funds also made it possible to purchase furnishings, chairs, tables, manipulatives, and multilingual publications.
“Janet Henry was very open and receptive to the staff here at Northwood,” said Director of Northwood Presbyterian Day School, Rebecca Cranfill. “She was a very great mentor and leader who brought in a lot of new ideas and excitement. She also allowed us to give our feedback and to grow along in the process.”
The grant program requires administration, teachers and staff to attend 30 hours of best practices for early childhood over a span of one year. Cranfill recalls speaking with teachers after returning from their monthly trainings.
“Our teachers were enthused and ready to start implementing new practices in the classroom immediately,” added Cranfill.
After the long hours of hard work, Northwood Presbyterian Day School received a 4-star rating on June 20, 2019, following its initial TRS assessment.
“If any center in San Antonio has a true passion for children’s education or wants to build a high-quality center, the support provided by Pre-K 4 SA is unparalleled,” Cranfill said. “It was such a blessing for us. By receiving the grant, we were able to accomplish some of those things for which we previously didn’t have funding.”
Currently, Pre-K 4 SA is assisting over 20 centers throughout the city become nationally accredited or TRS certified, and is currently recruiting additional centers.