Child care providers seek Parent Aware ratings

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Parent Aware ratings were born to help parents understand which child care providers and preschools employ best practices so that more Minnesota kids will be ready for kindergarten.

Kari Vinson, lead preschool teacher at Golden Rule Child Care, out of Grace Lutheran Church in Andover, leads students in several songs Feb. 29. Golden Rule is one of 95 programs in Anoka County that has received a four-star Parent Aware rating, the highest possible rating. Photo by Olivia Alveshere
Kari Vinson, lead preschool teacher at Golden Rule Child Care, out of Grace Lutheran Church in Andover, leads students in several songs Feb. 29. Golden Rule is one of 95 programs in Anoka County that has received a four-star Parent Aware rating, the highest possible rating. Photo by Olivia Alveshere

A pilot program was launched in 2007 with funding from a coalition of business owners and private donors, and when the state received a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge federal grant in 2012, the program expanded statewide, according to Doreen Jackson, baseline coordinator for Child Care Aware of Minnesota, which coordinates Parent Aware and other programs in the state.

Parent Aware reached Anoka County in 2013, and since that time, 104 of the 545 licensed child care providers here have volunteered and applied for a star rating. Of the 75 centers and preschools in Anoka County, 47 have been Parent Aware rated, Jackson said.

Overall, 29 percent of licensed programs in Anoka County participate in Parent Aware. Some license-exempt programs, like Head Start and school readiness programs within public elementary schools, also participate. Twenty-five providers and preschools are in the process of being rated, Jackson said.

Ratings range from one to four stars. Each star addresses four areas based on best practices shown to be predictive of kindergarten readiness: physical health and well-being, teaching and relationships, assessment of child progress, and teacher training and education, according to Jackson.

Obtaining a four-star rating

In Anoka County, more than half of rated programs have a four-star rating.

Linda Matson, who runs a day care out of her home in Coon Rapids, has been four-star rated since 2014 and is working to renew her rating. Ratings, like licenses, expire biennially.

Matson, a former teacher who has worked in the child care field for 38 years, has always maintained a curriculum for her kids, she said.

“I do for these children what I would want somebody to do for my children,” she said.

But documenting evidence of the best practices she uses was a challenge, so she was thankful Child Care Aware of Minnesota offered coaching assistance.

“There’s a lot of stuff you have to pull together,” Matson said.

She has had a lot of calls thanks to the Parent Aware website, where parents can search for child care providers and preschools locally by star rating. But she has her hands full watching 10 kids.

Golden Rule Child Care, out of Grace Lutheran Church in Andover, is also four-star Parent Aware rated. When the program first applied, it received a two-star rating, but working to earn accreditation expedited the center’s path to four stars, according to Director Tami Mielke.

The progression “really showcases what we’ve done as a program so that kids are ready for kindergarten,” Mielke said, adding that parents have returned time and time again to say how impressed kindergarten teachers are with former Golden Rule students.

The center is full with 50 kids between 16 months and age 5.

The threat of all-day pre-K

Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) dropped by Golden Rule Feb. 29 ahead of Super Tuesday to read preschool students “Duck for President.”

When asked by ABC Newspapers about Gov. Mark Dayton’s push for all-day 4-year-old preschool during the 2015 legislative session and its likely resurgence this session, she was quick to decry the measure.

“All-day pre-K would be another unfunded mandate,” Scott said. “We have some great private preschools,” she said gesturing to Golden Rule. “We certainly wouldn’t want to put that in jeopardy.”

The potential of all-day 4-year-old preschool is one reason Zion Lutheran Pre-K decided to apply for a star rating, according to Hope Luedtke, program director.

“If (all-day pre-K) goes through and it’s in all the school systems, we’re out of luck,” Luedtke said, adding that her prayer is that parents of 4-year-old students could use vouchers to send their children to Parent Aware-rated programs.

“This is all just a guessing game,” Luedtke said.

Zion Lutheran Pre-K is still in the process of securing a star rating, a process that generally takes anywhere from six months to a year, according to Jackson.

“It’s all been really, really beneficial,” Luedtke said. “It makes you have a lot of good conversation. It makes you review and look at your curriculum.”

But the benefit does come with some financial burden.

To move through the progression from one star to four stars requires lead teachers undergo 54 hours of training, Jackson said.

Zion Lutheran Pre-K is working toward a two-star rating with plans to progress to a three- or four-star rating the following year, Luedtke said.

A voluntary program, but for how long?

Many child care providers sense that eventually Parent Aware will be mandatory.

Jessica Villa, who works out of her home in Blaine, is one such provider. She earned a two-star rating a little more than a year ago and is working toward a three-star rating now.

Villa is encouraging other child care provider friends to pursue star ratings.

“I’ve told some of them to hurry up and get it done because you’re going to have to do it eventually,” she said.

“The voluntary model is working well for now,” Jackson said, adding that it is hard to say whether receiving a Parent Aware rating will eventually be mandatory because such a change would have to come down from the Legislature.

Numbers continue to grow as more than 2,200 child care facilities have opted in across the state, according to Jackson.

“Parents and families are learning more about it, and it’s a way for families to help choose quality child care,” Jackson said. “It’s also a way for providers to highlight the best practices that they are doing and to highlight their professionalism as well.”

To find child care providers in your area and learn more about Parent Aware ratings, visit www.ParentAware.org.

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