Community agencies in nine sites across North Carolina convened early childhood professionals in the fall of 2019 to discuss and provide input on improving the state’s early childhood systems. Participating sites were asked to provide feedback on one or more of the following goals and strategies:
Goal Area 1: Increase Access to Early Learning
- Strategize with counties and communities identified as child care deserts to determine how best to create new or expand existing child care facilities (homes and centers), including holding local convenings and allocating funding for capacity building.
- Increase access to high-quality early childhood programs for children who are homeless, in foster care, or from immigrant families.
- Expand access to high-quality early learning programs and ongoing classroom supports for young children with disabilities and other special health care needs.
- Improve access to and quality of infant and toddler classrooms.
Goal Area 2: Improve quality of early learning programs
- Work with Smart Start Network, CCR&R and other programs to provide ongoing technical assistance and professional development opportunities to help early learning providers keep up-to-date in best practices in trauma-informed care, racial equity, cultural competence, family engagement and building resiliency.
- Raise wages to attract, recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. a) Promote wage supplement programs like Child Care WAGE$ and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ programs. b) Work with NC Pre-K contractors to promote site adherence to wage scales for educators. c) Provide supplemental funds for NC Pre-K teacher compensation to achieve parity between private centers and public schools.
- Prepare teachers to build specific student skills needed for success. a) Create collaborative professional development opportunities between private, Head Start, and public providers of birth through five-year-old care and education. b) Provide research-informed professional development. c) Require specific educator and administrator professional development for building positive climates.
- Promote learning environments for young children that are free from systematic racism and implicit bias.
Goal Area 3: Supported and Supportive Families and Communities
- Make transitions – including from toddler programs to preschool, and from Pre-K to kindergarten, across centers, and between programs – easier for children, families, and teachers. 1 iv a) Connect the data systems for birth through age five programs to data systems for public schools to support vertical alignment and transitions. b) Require local education agency (LEA) decision makers to coordinate with child care providers and families to set up plans for more successful transitions.
- Provide support to local communities to improve and promote family engagement across systems including training, technical assistance, and coaching, along with grants to improve and promote family engagement to serve as a model for statewide dissemination.
- Provide increased access to research-based mental health services in early education settings to children and parents who need them.
Goal Area 4: Social and Emotional Health and Resilience
- Collect and analyze reliable data on young children’s mental health, physical health, well-being, social-emotional development, housing status, academic performance, and other factors in order to track children’s progress across multiple years, and then use that data to make better policy decisions for their care.
- Using different assessment tools, provide coaching and technical assistance through statewide special initiatives to early educators and administrators to ensure classroom practices, equipment, and materials are developmentally appropriate and support social-emotional health.
- Infuse infant and early childhood mental health competencies in provider education and professional development.
- Eliminate or minimize the use of suspension and expulsion in birth through five-year-old classrooms.
After choosing strategies to discuss, each small group responded to the following questions:
- What would our community need to implement this strategy?
- What are the action steps that need to happen to implement this strategy at the local and state level?
- What action steps should the state consider first in strategy implementation?
Participants in the local meetings included:
- Early educators and administrators of early education services for children birth through five
- Teachers and principals working with kindergarten through third grade
- Informal caregivers
- Providers of other early childhood services for children ages birth through eight, including:
- Home visiting services providers
- Early intervention services providers
- Head Start
- Smart Start local partnership
- Think Babies (if applicable in their community)
- Local Education Agency – Title I Director and/or Preschool Coordinator
- County Department of Social Services
- County Department of Public Health
- Local Management Entity-Managed Care Organization (LME-MCO)
Ensuring a Racial Equity Lens
The input sessions with community providers — and similar sessions with families — were designed with a racial equity lens. Activities undertaken to ensure this included:
- Working to ensure that the request for proposals was accessible and the grant-making process was brief and simple, ensuring ease for all organizations, and particularly those who have direct access to the intended audiences.
- Awarding financial resources and support to organizations to provide a stipend for participation, particularly for individual parents being interviewed.
- Inviting child caregivers to prioritize strategies most important to them, note their needs and define barriers to effectively implementing prioritized strategies, and suggest particular action items to effectively move forward.
- Shaping questions to explore not only the barriers faced by children and families but the strengths that marginalized children and families bring to challenge traditional ideas about what is “best” for children and families.
Nine early childhood professionals input sessions were convened and 204 professionals participated, representing 16 counties. Sites received guidance and materials from NCECF, including an Early Childhood Professionals Input Toolkit with facilitation guide and Webinar. The feedback was gathered through the federal Preschool Development Grant, which was administered by the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE). Acknowledging the importance of local early childhood professionals’ voice in guiding and informing state planning for early childhood systems building, the input is supporting the development of DCDEE’s B-5 Strategic Plan and will inform the operationalization of the Pathways Action Framework.
The B-5 Strategic Plan aligns with the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading framework and DHHS’ Early Childhood Action Plan. This month, NC was one of 20 states awarded a continuation Preschool Development Grant, which will support the implementation of the strategic plan over the next three years.