Division A
Category 5 – Internal
Look for the Stars

Situation Analysis/Research: Research shows the importance of providing high quality early child care educational programs as key to positioning children to succeed in school and in life. The 2007 Economic Policy Institute study states, “children who participate in high quality pre-kindergarten programs fare better in school, have better home lives, and … go on to higher achievement later in life, graduating from high school and attending college at a higher rate, and earning more money once they enter the labor force.”  The Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County (ELC) has played an instrumental role in preparing a county-wide Quality Rating Improvement System (QIS). This purely local initiative, funded through a true public/private partnership is overseen by the Quality Child Care Council (QCC) with ownership by the Sarasota County Community. The purpose of QIS is to implement a Sarasota county-wide 5-star rating system for early child care providers for measuring and improving the quality of care received. This rating system builds on the equity that already exists through movie, hotel and restaurant star rating systems and also serves as a point of reference for parents to help aid the child care decision making process. The program’s success first depended on convincing our primary target audience, the Sarasota County child care providers of children ages 0 to 5, to join the program because participation was not mandatory. Year one of Sarasota’s QIS served as a pilot year and offered initial baseline assessment scores for the child care programs. These research-based assessments were conducted by independent evaluators and star ratings from 1 to 5 were assigned, thus providing a basis for measuring improvements in year two.  

Internal Objectives: 1) To achieve 50% participation of Sarasota child care providers in QIS the first year; 2) To have at least 1,000 directors/teachers attend ELC trainings; 3) To have 50% of providers maintain or increase their star levels in year two; 4) To increase the number of sites achieving 3 stars or higher in year two assessments by 20%.

Implementation: Realizing that providers were being asked to open their programs to intense scrutiny, we developed a communications plan to help prepare them to communicate their star levels to parents. A simple theme with a clear call to action was chosen for the overall campaign, Look for the Stars (LFTS) and a variation on this was used to encourage providers (internal audience) to “reach” for high quality star levels. Marketing materials explaining the scoring process were created and a series of provider information sessions were conducted. Once the pilot program providers were secured, the assessments began using research based tools that focused on elements known to reflect quality and impact child outcomes. Anticipating that some of the providers may be disappointed with their initial star levels, a series of mentoring sessions were held and a tool kit was developed to help them understand their scores, talk to parents about their involvement in LFTS, explain the process and scoring system and properly emphasize their personal commitment to quality improvement. Informing providers about the program branding materials and timeline was also a key component of the sessions. Once providers received their pilot assessment star levels, quality improvement plans were formulated and both individualized action plans for improvement and community wide trainings targeting areas that needed improvement were implemented by the ELC. Once the providers understood and committed to the improvement process, we launched the vital component of educating parents about the importance of seeking quality programs and using the LFTS rating system as a tool. If the program was to have maximum impact and sustainability, parents must begin to “demand quality.” The parent marketing campaign was initiated, utilizing multiple media outlets. The development of a Look for the Stars Web site (www.lookforthestars.org) was a key component in helping providers announce their star levels and promote their services to parents. Supporting the “Reach for the Stars” message and the training program was an incentive program that rewarded providers and teachers financially in the form of mini-grants and teacher retention bonuses.

The voluntary participation objective was exceeded by 17% with 150 sites participating out of 230 sites in Sarasota County. The ELC trained 2,900 teachers/directors in 123 training sessions. 31% of the providers increased their star levels and 25% maintained their 3 star level or higher. 56% of the sites either increased or maintained their star levels in year two. The number of providers that increased their star level to 3 or higher was 22%. A notable accomplishment is the continued high level of participation of the providers despite the degree of scrutiny within the evaluation of their programs, and in some cases the assessments did not always indicate “high” star levels. The following comment from one provider demonstrates both a level of commitment to making changes and to an appreciation of the supports offered: “Even though we did not score well with the Look for Stars program this year, we love it. We are looking forward to being part of this process this year and we embrace Meryl as our Mentor. We also appreciate the grants we received and the trainings on ITERS and ECERS have already made a difference.”
Note: The assessment process is underway for year three and they already show vast improvement over year two star ratings.

:  On-site Coaches/Consultants: $218,359; Internal Communications Coordination: $11,400 (In-kind $11,400); Admin/Evaluation: $54,750; Supplemental Provider Payments: $381,979; Assessments: $125,000; and Teacher Support/Trainings/ Scholarships/Mini-grants: $227,850. TOTAL: $1,019, 338.