By Sarintha Stricklin
How can we as leaders ensure our early childhood programs are providing the highest quality care to our children?
Even before the pandemic, we asked ourselves this question often. Our search for a way to support teachers and continuously improve the quality of our programs within the Jefferson Parish Early Childhood Collaborative in Louisiana led us on a journey, which culminated in the implementation of The Essential 0-5 Survey. The Essential 0-5 Survey, developed in partnership by Start Early and the University of Chicago Consortium, is a measurement system that provides insight into the strength and weakness of organizational climate for individual programs.
The Jefferson Parish Early Childhood Collaborative focuses on providing intentional professional development to support teachers and leaders. Prior to engaging in The Essential 0-5 Survey, our professional development focused on day-to-day interactions between teachers and children inside the classroom; for directors, the focus was team support, assessment of children and behavior management strategies. We did not offer any professional development focused on the organization as a whole.
After years of implementing CLASS across a variety of programs within our network — including child care centers, Early Head Start and Head Start and public schools — we were seeing only marginal improvement in our quality improvement metrics, specifically instructional leadership. Upon reflection, we realized that our administrators needed different kinds of supports to elevate their instructional leadership to the level needed to improve quality within their programs. The Essential 0-5 Survey presented an opportunity to gather information in a systematic, research-based way and give leaders a unique vantage point into their programs. What’s more, the Survey measures both teacher/staff and parent perceptions in order to provide program leaders a holistic understanding of their programs’ strengths and weaknesses.
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, 14 community-based programs within our network signed up to pilot The Essential 0-5 Survey in the fall of 2020. These 14 programs have now successfully implemented the survey, received their program-level data and begun to engage in growth efforts recommended through the process. The survey data has empowered these leaders and their staff to explore the “why” behind their stagnating instructional leadership metrics. The small changes they have identified to make as individuals and as a team have resulted in rapid and meaningful improvement for themselves and the families and children they serve.
The Essential 0-5 Survey is rooted in decades of research from the University of Chicago Consortium and their 5Essentials framework focused on K-12 education. Research demonstrates the impact organizational conditions have on program quality: a program strong in three of the five essentials is 10 times likelier to substantially improve student engagement and achievement in math and reading (see the graph below).
Schools Strong in Three or More of the Five Essentials 10x More Likely to Improve
Dr. Stricklin serves as the Director of the Jefferson Early Childhood Network supporting leaders of publicly funded programs in south Louisiana. She has worked in early education for over 30 years as a teacher, administrator, trainer, coach, and consultant. Currently, she leads a broad coalition of thought partners who are collaborating to increase access to high-quality early care and education across neighborhoods in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.