What to Do With $50,000

What to Do With $50,000
Impacting the Classroom
What to Do With $50,000

Sep 13 2022 | 00:38:58

Episode September 13, 2022 00:38:58

Hosted By

Marnetta Larrimer

Show Notes

It’s not in question that educational efforts need more funding; the question is what to do with that funding when it’s received. In today’s episode, Marnetta talks to one returning guest, Sarnitha Stricklin, director of the Jefferson Early Childhood Network in Louisiana, and Jen Roberts, CEO of Agenda for Children. They’re going to talk about using funding, both how they’ve done it previously and what their vision is for the future. 

Listen to the episode to hear what Sarnitha and Jen have to say about what leaders should do when they’re receiving education-specific funds, the successful investments they’ve seen and been part of, and their ideas for issues like retention and compensating educators. 

Topics Discussed in This Episode
[00:00:23] Returning guest Sarintha Strickland

[00:01:04] Jen Roberts, CEO of Agenda for Children

[00:01:25] How Sarintha and Jen know each other

[00:03:18] What leaders who are receiving education-specific funds for the fiscal year 2023 should do

[00:07:10] What the initial investment in the leadership looked like for Sarintha

[00:11:52] The most successful investment Jen saw

[00:13:51] Growth in CLASS scores

[00:14:26] Putting directors in a leadership role

[00:15:43] When they started to think they were making a difference

[00:20:35] The vision Jen and Sarintha are working toward now

[00:23:45] Ideas for compensating educators

[00:28:48] Who outreach is open to

[00:31:15] Ideas for retention

[00:36:07] Reaching people at all levels


Marnetta Larrimer

Sarintha Stricklin 

Jen Roberts


View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Marnetta: Hello, listeners. This is Impacting the Classroom, the podcast that addresses some of the many policies, challenges, and research that impact early education. I'm your host, Marnetta Larrimer. What's impacting our classrooms? Today you'll hear another familiar voice from earlier this season. Sarintha Stricklin is the director of the Jefferson Early Childhood Network in Louisiana. If you didn't hear her talk about the groundbreaking work she's been doing to improve Louisiana's quality improvement system, I strongly encourage you to go back and listen to that episode. Sarintha, I'm so excited to have you back. Sarintha: Thank you so much for having me back. It's exciting to be here and share some of the work we're doing and give you some updates on what we're doing now in Jefferson to impact the classroom. Marnetta: Wonderful. I told you we needed another episode. It happened. Today we're joined by another Louisianan, Jen Roberts, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Agenda for Children, a statewide advocacy organization working to improve the lives of children throughout Louisiana. Welcome, Jen. Jen: Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be joined by Sarintha, my good old partner in crime in good work. Marnetta: Okay. That was a great segue. Partner in crime, Jen and Sarintha, tell me how you know each other and work together. Jen: Sure you want to take it Sarintha or do you want me to? Sarintha: I'll start and you can chime in. Jen and I serve in similar roles in South Louisiana. Jen has multiple hats, like a lot of us. You introduced her role for Agenda for Children in the statewide Childcare Resource and Referral and Advocacy Center, but we also serve as the Executive Directors of Lead Agencies and Ready Start networks. These are the networks that pull together publicly funded programs in our parishes. Orleans and Jefferson are neighbors, and they are the two largest networks in the state of Louisiana. Jen: Absolutely. I had a different career prior to joining and getting back into the early care and education field. I was a foundation administrator and when I transitioned over into my new role in 2018, I had heard Sarintha's name for years and years and was really excited when I asked around who do I need to go connect with to kind of figure out how to do this work and to do it well. Sarintha was at the top of the list and so she and I connected in a 2018 coffee shop and since then have really relied on each other for advice and expertise. I think we push each other in really good ways to think about the work differently given the complexities of each of our communities. Marnetta: Most definitely. Lots of interconnectedness in your role over a long period of time. That's quite a collaboration and partnership. We're talking about Louisiana—a Louisiana specific episode. Louisiana is a case study in early childhood quality improvement due to the work that's been happening for many years in the state. What advice would you give leaders who are maybe receiving funding from some of the education-specific funds that the Senate has proposed for the fiscal year 2023? Sarintha: Again, I'm happy to start and have Jen jump in. We've been working on quality improvements for many years in Louisiana and we might be in a different place than other states, but when we think back to where we started, we really began looking at where you can get the most bang for your buck. If you have a small amount of funding to utilize to get rolling, our first question was where can we invest that small amount of money that's going to have more return on our investment? Our initial information indicated that we had to really think about where we have professionals working in early care and education that stay in their roles over time. While we know right now, national data in Louisiana show there's a huge turnover of teachers in early care and education. What we don't see is turnover at the owner-director level and that was the impetus for our investment in early care and education center owners and directors. Many of these are women. They tend to be women from representative groups and it just made sense they were in the centers that were under-resourced. We started there and really invested the few dollars that we had in supporting them and understanding what constitutes quality and how to have an impact in the classroom to advance that quality. Jen: Absolutely. I think we did something similar in Orleans. As Sarintha mentioned, we were in a lot of different hats. We're the Childcare Resource Referral Agency, but we're also the administrator for the Orleans Parish Quality Improvement efforts, as well as kind of our early Head Start locally funded municipal scholarship program. For us, the key aspect was how do we leverage each of these roles in each of these funding streams and grade them effectively. Because we could focus on some of our brand new educators in the classroom through some of our CCR work. We also took an approach of investing heavily in the leaders as well. I think about this, we're coming out, although I don't know what that means of a pandemic, and we also are prone to hurricanes here in Louisiana. We've spent a lot of time working with directors around emergency preparedness and we helped provide case management towards helping our directors complete their and then actually get their PPP loans forgiven right. We spent a lot of time thinking about this system level and improvement because we felt that was also the place where we could leverage the most public money as well as private money. I think that what's been so helpful is that we've got some funding coming into our communities for the first time, but you also have a moment in time where foundations and philanthropy are really eager to think about investing. Our biggest wins, I think, have happened because we've been able to use public money and then leverage it against private money to make a much bigger splash in the community. Marnetta: Thank you for that. I hear we talked very broadly about it being a small amount of money so I think I just kind of want to talk about an amount so people can visualize what that looks like. If there was $50,000 or $100,000 that you were given, I heard from Jen about some specific investments in meters like emergency preparedness, PPP, loan forgiveness. Sarintha, you were at a different place, what did that initial investment in the leadership looked like? What were some of the things that happened? Sarintha: I think we are in a different place right now with funding, but when I think back to our initial funding and it is small amounts, we were looking at investing in our childcare owners and directors, those site-based leaders around CLASS, and getting them trained initially on what is the CLASS tool, what does it look like, why is it the right tool, why is it important? Having them not just begin to understand it, but being trained to become reliable observers and then investing for them to become actual trainers on the CLASS tool. When I think about our initial network and where we were as a network leadership team, we were a small but mighty team and we needed what Jen was talking about leveraging other resources. Some of these childcare owners had 20 or longer years in the field and some of them had master's degrees in early childhood education. There was a wealth of knowledge and it was about investing in them to learn this new tool that in Louisiana adopted as the sole metric for measuring quality and investing in them to understand it, but then also supporting them to support others. To learn about it, become reliable observers, and then those are the individuals that we also dedicated resources for them as well as our team members to be able to train on and coach on CLASS as well. Marnetta: CLASS is an amazing investment. I don't say that just because I work here either. It was amazing even as it was introduced to us through the pilot in Louisiana. It was definitely a turning point in how we care for children in the classroom, what that quality looks like, and of course, marked improvements in system successes, which helps them to get more dollars. It's a whole cycle of success based on adopting CLASS as a metric of quality in the classroom. Onboarding them, getting them familiar and knowledgeable in that helps them to be successful with that. It’s not a quick fix, not a band-aid, something that is sustainable and really is impactful all the time from here, moving forward. Sarintha: Even thinking about the tool in a different way and thinking about how you use parallel processes. We're supporting teachers to develop relationships with the children in their classroom, but it also is foundational to leadership at the center level because directors need to build relationships with the teachers in their centers. Now more than ever, when we see this incredible turnover of teachers in early care and education, we are really supporting those same directors to think about the culture of their organization, that we still have some centers that have minimal turnover. We know that our teachers are not making a livable wage. We need to be looking at fair compensation packages for them. If you take that off the table because across centers, they're not making a livable wage, they don't have decent compensation packages, but there are centers that have the stability of staff—consistent staff overtime. A lot of that, we believe, is the culture of that organization, that leader using those parallel processes and recognizing that the stability of their workforce is grounded in the relationships they have within their centers. Marnetta: You're correct, all of the things you said were music. I'm just going yes, because interactions matter. Whether, as you said, it's teachers and children, educators and children, or those adult interactions that we have. Both of those are impactful and lead to success for all those involved. Jen? Jen: I think about when you said $50,000, we had some modest investments like that early when we started this work. One of the best things we did, and it really aligns with what Sarintha said, was we actually trained a cohort of directors to become MMCI Facilitators and it was phenomenal. Not only were we coaching our staff and we had trained our staff, but then we actually had folks who were not employees of Agenda for Children who could also work alongside us and deliver that. I think the most successful one we did was we established, there were 18 simultaneous cohorts of MMCI happening at the exact same time, co-facilitated by one employee of Agenda and one director and $50,000 got us pretty far because we could leverage it. It made it a really fun community. As someone who has to wear a lot of those hats, it became that we weren't just a lead agency, but then our directors were making really deep connections with our staff as the RNR professionals and then they too, were able to problem solve in real-time and I think about that. I remember we put through almost 300 people in about a one-semester cycle, and it was pretty phenomenal. Marnetta: For those listing, CLASS not only has this observation tool where we capture those quality interactions in the classroom, there's also coaching tools that support support teachers, their growth, and their CLASS journey helps them to understand the behaviors, but also tie those behaviors to what they're already doing in the classroom and making plans to get more of the things that they do already into those days. Classroom coaching, MMCI, making the most of classroom interactions is what Jen is referring to and what that does. Thank you so much and yes, MMCI is very impactful. It's in bite sized chunks. They're able to really dissect those dimensions, understand them, put them into practice, and identify those behaviors wonderful and that's a lot of people get in and done. Jen: Our CLASS scores are dramatically huge. That was the year we had the largest growth in the state, and we completely believe it was because we had so many folks in this intensive kind of experience along the way on MMPI. Marnetta: That's beautiful and then the teachers feel really successful, too, because the things that they were doing are validated through this tool. Then it's showing up in this way that celebrates the work that they are doing. Jen: It puts the director also in a leadership role and so not only, as Sarintha was saying, are they the expert. In our case, it was also validated with this partnership that we trusted. We were investing communally in our directors to be able to lead these programs, both in their centers as well as other centers. I'll never forget one of them left and actually did the training across the street at a competitor site later on because they were really impressed with the work that we had done. Marnetta: Wow. Yes, and helping leaders to recognize their abilities because sometimes you get so stuck in the day to day of the child care world or the early education world, you forget that you have this power. You have this ability to do other things and impact in other ways. Opening that up for them and providing them that leadership to do that, I'm sure, was empowering as well. It shows up in how they show up in a vast majority for more roles in leadership and visibility across the state. It all started with you guys saying, hey, you can do this. You've got this. You can leave this. You are able. That opens the door to other types of work that have expanded in Louisiana. At what point in the early stages of planning Louisiana's early education system did you start to think, hey, we're really doing something here. We're making a difference. We're being really impactful. We're filling it with our families and our children. When did that happen for you in those early stages? Sarintha: It's funny for me because I think Jen used a word that almost set you up to ask that question and that was the director who went across the street to train at her competitor's site. One of the times that I believe that we had turned a corner and we really were making an impact was when this network of directors, leaders, and networks of providers we were bringing together began to realize that they had expertise and this tool really validated what they knew, but also when they decided they were all colleagues and not competitors. I think there are two things that happen there, is that this sort of community being brought together around a common purpose, using a common tool, having common language and a common lens through which we look at interactions in classrooms, but also beginning to recognize as we broaden our reach and thought about access to quality, they began realizing that there are so many children who are not serving and we're not going to serve any time in the near future because we have insufficient early care and education, or childcare, or early head start. Whatever program you want to name. Put them all together. We're all together still insufficient in meeting the needs for access in our community. Beginning to see we're not competitors, we're colleagues, and how do we work on this together. Those two things really, for us, we began to believe we've turned the corner, we've made a difference and we're starting to have an impact. Jen: Yeah, I couldn't agree more, Sarintha. I think that the goal of collaboration and networking was kind of the early goal and we use CLASS as a way to help us facilitate that. I think for us, that MMCI example was a huge win, but I think about how that type of experience leveraged and springboarded us into really incredible things. For example, we in Orleans Parish just passed a massive mileage where we're going to be able to provide upwards of 2000 full day, full year free childcare for infants and toddlers for up to 2000 kids. That would not have happened if we hadn't made those relationships in that MMCI classroom where then they went from the classroom to the campaign trail. Our providers were the ones who led that effort and they had a way to talk about quality. They had a way to talk about how to assess quality. When people could stand up and say, well, how do you know that we're going to put seats in places that are successful and are going to use the dollars and have the most impact on children in a positive way? They had not just language and talking points, but at this point, almost eight years of data to prove. I think that is still one of the ways that we've been successful at leveraging what's happening in the classroom and what can be assessed and then use that towards some of these bigger, much larger system influences and impactful events. Marnetta: Those are some beautiful shares. Yes, I agree. There was a shift and you could really feel that shift, the energy even with visiting, because we were at a place where it was so competitive, there was no visiting another center without some ulterior motive. Now it's just like, come on, let's have lunch. Let's talk about how we can support each other. There was a really definite shift that you could feel in the air, really, based on what you said, not seeing each other as competitors, but in working towards the same goal in our communities. What's next? You guys are advocates for this work? As you know, the work is never done, especially in this field. What vision are you working towards at this moment? Jen: We're at an inflection point here locally. We are in a position of having to rapidly scale our entire higher network of publicly funded seats in less than six months, basically. We passed this major ballot initiative which is going to increase access for families across the city, but that comes with a lot of challenges that we need to immediately address for that to be a really successful transition. Educator workforce is going to continue to be an issue.Sarintha has said it, and I'll repeat here, it's great to have quality teachers, but if we can't retain them and we can't count on them to be there for a variety of reasons, we're putting a lot of time and investment into individuals who aren't staying in the field. At the end of the day, we can have the money for seats, you can have the directors, you can even have the buildings, but if you don't have folks who are willing, able, and successful in the classroom, we're going to have a lot more challenges. For us, we've been just laser focused on retaining the existing workforce because, again, we're losing about 40%–50% each year. Keeping them in the classroom and then ensuring that they feel and can see themselves in a career progression. For so long, teachers kind of feel themselves as, I can be an educator, I can be an assistant teacher, I can be a teacher in the classroom, I might be able to move up into an administrator role, and those are my three roles. Now we're saying wait, you can be a coach, you can be a trainer, you can be an inclusion specialist. You can really think about your pathway in a way that allows you to think about the future. I would say that for us, hands down, and the most important aspect about that for us is about compensation and ensuring that women in particular are getting what they need to survive, which is very hard right now in a post pandemic world. I keep pushing us kind of as a network and as a state to stop trying to get to $20 an hour. That's the bare minimum. We should be thinking about how we compensate our child care professionals comparably to nurses. I use this metaphor all the time, but we've done this once before, after World War II with nursing and World War I after nursing. Nursing was perceived as kind of a job that somebody could just do, and then it became a real gateway to the middle class that had professional standards and had an incredible professional kind of career ladder. I think we have to get to a place where we're doing that with early care and education professionals because they are doing just incredible work and need to be compensated as such. Marnetta: If it's not just a dollar, that per hour, what are some other ideas that you propose to compensate these educators? Jen: I think a lot of folks have talked about benefits packages. They have talked about total compensation, and I think that that's a good first start. I also think about, if we use nursing as an example, there was a huge federal investment in both hospitals as well as. At the time, we were kind of transitioning to a private insurance market back in the day. I think that we're going to have to identify public and private dollars to come together to be able to raise salaries commensurately. I think that that's probably the first thing we have to do. The other thing is that we've thought a lot about economies at scale and is there a way to think about shared services in a different way where you can mitigate the risk but still protect the ownership of childcare centers and the owner operators. I'm excited because we actually have a community task force that's really thinking about this. We have about 30 different organizations that are working on Orleans Parish educator issues that are driving towards this mileage implementation. I'm really going to rely on the expertise and wisdom of our community partners to help think about how we might be able to do this. I'll report back on my next podcast on what our findings are. Marnetta: I would love to hear it for sure. We would love to hear it and all the listeners. Sarintha, what would you like to add? Sarintha: Well, obviously we're working on some similar issues to Jen and her team in Orleans. We have committees and communities of practice and all sorts of initiatives to really look at workforce and workforce retention. One of the other big initiatives we have is around building the workforce and recruiting a more linguistically and culturally diverse workforce. Most recently, the Jefferson Ready Start Network completed a landscape analysis of access to quality early care and education. Most people who are in the field would not be surprised when we said one finding was that we have insufficient seats or insufficient access for our infants and toddlers. The other finding was that we have children in Latino families, are underrepresented in the publicly funded seats that we do have, and so we have a huge initiative underway. First, we're just wondering, why and where are the children? When we look at the population in Jefferson, and it's similar in Orleans and I know Jen and her team are doing some similar things, but we see an increase in the Latino population, but we don't see increases in access to our publicly funded early care and education seats, even though we know these children and families would qualify. We engaged in some efforts to gather more information. We have a couple of reports published that have really outlined what we have identified as some of the issues and no surprise, there are trust issues, and how do we mitigate that? We're doing a lot of partnering with Latino serving organizations in our community and gathering more information, doing more outreach, working with the faith based community, and our Latino churches. We're educating individuals across the community and we have increased our enrollment over the last six months with a spring enrollment common enrollment system that really did outreach using those Latino serving organizations. Now we're really looking at and recognizing that we don't have teachers. We have very few teachers in our early care and education sites who are Spanish speaking. We have a few leaders who are bilingual. We have several initiatives underway, including recruiting Spanish speaking teachers, supporting them in classrooms with bilingual teachers, serving as mentor teachers. We're also looking out for the first time across Louisiana, also in Orleans and Jefferson, and for us specifically conducting outreach to our family child care homes, specifically those family child care homes that are led by Spanish speaking women who are in our Latino communities. Huge undertakings there and more about recruitment there. At the same time, Jen and her team are doing a lot of other initiatives around retention of the teachers that we have. Marnetta: Wonderful. I love that we've really been thinking about Family Child Care Home, those hidden gems of the early child care world. When you guys are doing that outreach, is it just to the registered providers or are you also reaching out to the other providers who don't want to go through the process of going through registration? Sarintha: We're open to all. We are using grant dollars and philanthropic dollars to conduct outreach because we're learning. We want to know where the Latino children are in our community. If they're in a family child care home that is not registered or not certified, then we still want to learn more about those sites. We want to partner with those sites. We want trusted organizations working with us to work with them to figure out how you are where you are? What are you interested in? How can we support you? What could it look like? We're not going to pretend to be the experts on Family Child Care Homes and Family Child Care Services. We certainly know what some of the metrics are in terms of adult child interactions, but we need to gather information. We need to build coalitions. We need to really figure out what is needed and how we can collaborate. We're not going to run in saying we're the expert. We do know that many will be in different places. Some might be registered, we do know some are certified. In Louisiana now, they have the opportunity to become part of our quality system where they can have academic assurances and academic approval. Then their quality gets published eventually alongside childcare centers. We know in Jefferson, and I know there are some in Orleans that with no recruitment effort at all, they've said, hey, yeah, we're ready to do this. We want class observations. We want support to increase the quality. We want our quality published. We know those exist, but our real target is the others because when we look at our data, when we look at our numbers, we know that more children are on sites that are not yet registered. Marnetta: Thank you for that. Sarintha. We talked some about retention and I'm just curious and it's always a conversation, especially if you're and you're just like, how do I keep people ? What are your ideas? What are you guys doing to help providers to keep educators in their classrooms? Jen: I was going to say I think there's a lot right and I would argue that our providers are actively leading the charge on this. They're the ones who are closest to the problem. We've heard a lot about compensation and benefits. We've heard about retention stipends and things like that. We've heard about thinking about healthcare in a slightly different way where they're picking up, especially during the pandemic. They're both establishing programs as well as paying for all of those programs. The biggest thing that I've kind of heard that I'm excited about is really thinking about directors kind of mentoring younger educators and helping them think about opening up their centers. I'm not going to go as far to call it a franchise model, but they're starting to see, especially with this massive expansion that we're going to have to have here in Orleans Parish, we are going to have to find ways to both retain the workforce as well as quickly expand the number of owner operators that we have. We're seeing that this career ladder infrastructure is one of the biggest things that is helping people propel and stay in the field. UDA has done a lot of research about the state of the field here. One of the things that was probably the most surprising to me is that even our Head Start teachers, who we would argue are highest compensated, are even experiencing really high levels of food insecurity. It's not just about giving them a potential job in the future, but it's also thinking about how we provide additional wraparound support in the interim to our existing workforce? As we think about our publicly funded seats, we've spent a lot of time bringing in mental health consultation and trauma support for our existing staff and also trying to connect them to social services while we're simultaneously doing the, I would argue, most critical work of figuring out how to compensate people for the work that they do. Marnetta: I love the idea of all of that. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully create some thoughts for other information. You might be wondering where to start and what is important from the ground. Sarintha, did you want to add anything? Sarintha: Jen and I often think similarly and that's exactly where my brain was going. I think it's worth reiterating that the data that University of Virginia has published on stress levels and teachers in Louisiana, those lack of resources, lack of access to mental health services, for example, are just so critical. I do think it's one of the most important initiatives that we all have going. It's also offered statewide for teachers and we just really can't turn a blind eye to that data. We have to think about what those different resources are? In some ways, it's not just about the dollar. It is about the total support for our teachers to stay in the field. Just a lot of what Jen is talking about in terms of that mentoring. We all know that as we expand access, we do have to think beyond our current workforce, and we really have to think about mentoring our teachers. We have to think about bricks and mortar. I mean, that is just where we are. I love Jen, but I'm jealous because we don't yet have a mileage but it is one of the next steps for us and I know that we have to start with that education piece. We have to have the sport of our leaders. We have to have the support of our teachers. We know that if we had that village in Jefferson right now, we'd be just like Jen. We would be figuring out how to ramp up because we just don't have the actual space to enroll more children at this point. We've got to have systems that recognize our teachers, support our teachers, mentor our teachers, and really show them that this is a career field. It's not just a job that has one or two opportunities. Opportunities are endless. Marnetta: That's what you guys are creating. That's what I love about Louisiana, such innovators and just also really in touch with the people you interact with. You're interacting, working with people at different levels and really taking that information and applying it to all the processes in the state, in the growth of the state. I really appreciate all the work that you guys have been doing. Sarintha: Just to comment on what you said, when we look at our journey over time, we even started today talking about initial investment in childcare leaders, but we've had to touch people at all levels. I think one of the things that we're working on as well, and Jen and her folks just did so successfully, and that is work with and educate our business leaders, our local governmental leaders. We've got some of that support in Jefferson and we're super excited. When you go into a meeting and you have a local council person stand up and champion early care and education and do it in a way that is so articulate and uses data. When I was in a recent meeting of a large influential business organization, the parish councilman stood up and talked and then looked at me to add anything and I just said wow, there is nothing I can add. This man is our champion and he said it so beautifully. It really is. You might have to start somewhere, but you really have to think about that advocacy, that education at all levels if you're going to change systems in big ways. Marnetta: That's a wonderful note to end on. Thank you so much, Sarintha. The time went by really fast. Thank you both for joining me today. You guys were an absolute pleasure and I think that everything that you provided, will help other systems in other places to be successful in expanding and enhancing early care networks. You can find today's episode and transcript on our website, teachstone.com/impacting. As always, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together. Thanks again.

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