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 El Cajon Preschool Finds Value in Quality Support

El Cajon Wesleyan Preschool has been serving families well for more than a quarter-century, but recently the East County early care provider had the opportunity to experience deep professional growth thanks to participation in the Infant/Toddler Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) Block Grant Program.

The grant helps increase access to quality care and education for infants and toddlers in San Diego County by expanding participation in QRIS. The program supports early care and education programs by providing administrator coaching, access to free professional development, support with establishing quality-improvement plans, and incentives, explained Program Specialist Blanca Silva of the San Diego County Office of Education’s Early Education department, which supports grant recipients.

QRIS measures and rates the quality of participating early care and education programs based on seven elements: child observation, developmental and health screenings, qualified teachers, effective teacher-child interactions, adult-to-child ratios and group size, safe and engaging program environment, and qualified early learning center directors. This type of evaluation was quite new for El Cajon Wesleyan Preschool, which serves about 70 families, Director Les Henderson said. 

“Our preschool is well established and has had the same administrator for all but three months,” Henderson said. “We are consistent; we are compassionate; we are comfortable. All of those are fine things. But the QRIS program brought home the importance of self-evaluation and professional growth. Consistency is a hallmark for many areas, but weakens if it is not monitored for value.”

Henderson said his program for years relied solely on anecdotal and informal student evaluations. The grant process has jump-started the program in bringing back more formal assessment tools in order to have greater understanding of how his educators are moving children forward physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively, and how to utilize best practice models and set up their environments for optimal child engagement. 

After going through the observation and assessment process with SDCOE coaches, Henderson said, his preschool staff experienced some discomfort at the program’s initial QRIS scores. Silva reminded them that the process is not about “shame and blame.” The coaches assured the early care providers that the next steps would be to show them ways they can improve in the next day, in the next month, and in the years to come.

“Having professionals speak to my staff and to support their efforts in ways I simply cannot was a kindness my teachers deserve for all their hard work,” Henderson said. “There is no greater value, in my opinion, than the people whose expertise we now have access to. The material incentives are, and were, game changing in how we’ve structured the look of our classrooms and what the children engage and interact with. But the professional expertise and the encouragement that comes with it is tremendous.”

In addition to Silva, Henderson and his team received coaching and support from SDCOE’s Nicole Hernandez, Marlo Dinkins, Michelle Houle, and Nancy Baum. "This process could not have been more professionally and individually suited to our program."

Henderson said he is committed to continuing in QRIS for El Cajon Wesleyan Preschool. “We have access to a great wealth of information, experience, and resources through SDCOE and coaches that we did not have previously.”

“Child-care providers fill an under-appreciated, undervalued, vital role in all communities,” he said. “It is prudent to take advantage of people and resources who are committed to improving child care.”