Last week, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project completed its administrative self-assessment – the final phase of its annual self-assessment. When the Head Start program was created 50 years ago, the early childhood experts who developed the program understood how difficult it would be to provide high-quality early childhood education in impoverished communities. For that reason, these experts required all Head Start programs to perform a self-critical analysis each year of the program’s strengths and areas for improvement. For many of us at ECMHSP, this is one of our favorite tasks as it provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we can enhance our work.
Kerry Cormier is a preschool teacher at our Migrant Head Start Center in Bailey, North Carolina. She was a valuable contributor to this year’s administrative self-assessment. She shares her experience in this interview.
What is your position at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and how long have you worked here?
My name is Kerry Cormier and I have been a Preschool teacher at the NCDS-Bailey Center for 14 years.
What is the favorite part of your work?
The Children! They bring so much laughter and joy into my life. I appreciate the professionalism that ECMHSP strives for. I am an Early Childhood Educator and appreciate that ECMHSP strives to have educators and not babysitters in every classroom of the center. And, I get paid to play for a majority of the day! Not very many people can say this about where they work.
What is the least favorite part of your work?
Being short staffed. Getting the down time needed to enter paperwork and make lesson plans often causes teachers to scramble and push up against deadlines. Teachers really could use an occasional mental break too. Being in a classroom all day is very exhausting. Also that our season frequently feels too short. Just when I feel like we are really rolling it is time for the children to move. It is wonderful to see them when they return more mature and able to accomplish so much more then the previous season.
How has your work changed while you have been at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?
Over the years Head Start has required all their programs to become more accountable for outcomes. Teachers not only have to understand what they are teaching but why they are teaching it. East Coast has worked hard to find ways to show accountability through our paperwork processes and classroom procedures. Just read our Classroom Manual and you can see all the hard work and thought put into how we do our job; it is a wealth of information.
Families are not moving like they used to. Here in North Carolina we see families settling out or farmers hiring H-2A guest workers—single men— to harvest. This has caused us to have lower enrollment and to rethink how we recruit families. This is the first year since I have worked for East Coast that we accepted seasonal families at the beginning of our season. Happily it filled the classroom.
Strong communication is even more important today than ever before: both at the center level and throughout the whole program. Without strong communication, important deadlines will be missed. Children who are falling behind will not be given the tools they need to succeed. Opportunities to really make a difference in the lives of the families we serve will go by the wayside. This communication needs to move not only up the ladder but also down so that the teachers and center core staff have the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions that will have positive effects on the program.
Last week, you had the opportunity to participate in ECMHSP’s Administration Self-Assessment, could describe what was involved?
People from all different aspects of ECMHSP were involved; Board Members, Parent Policy Council Members, Corporate Staff, Regional and Center Staff. Over two days we looked at where we were as a program last year and where we saw changes that needed to occur for next year. There were discussions about our programs strengths and also areas where we needed improvement as a program overall. As this information was being discussed, it was also being recorded. At the end of the two days each member of the self-assessment team was able to prioritize what they felt was the most needed changes. It was by this process that a program improvement plan will be developed so that next year we are a stronger and even more professional program.
What were three things you learned about ECMHSP during the administrative self-assessment?
The people at the top really do care about the teachers and what is happening at the center level. They are well aware that the centers need support both in planning time and continued education/training. They are trying diligently to find ways to help all ECMHSP employees and programs not just during those fast and furious pre-service weeks but also throughout our seasons.
If you are not tech savvy, it is time to work on your computer skills. ECMHSP, like many organizations today, is working hard to become paperless. This means that everyone is going to have to be able to use the computer to enter and access information. I have a feeling that our Information Technology Manager Andy Pederson and his team of specialists are going to be very busy with people like me! Sorry, Andy. It is my hope that every classroom will have a computer that they can use to access Child Plus and onlinelap.net.
Bus services are a privilege to our families. The requirements to become a bus driver are a huge undertaking! We should be helping our families understand that bus service is for those with a true need and not just a convenience. Maybe we can encourage shared driving and/or explain why bus stops are at central locations instead of door-to-door pick-up. And if you know of anybody that might make the cut, contact Charles Leach, our Transportation Manager! I know that many of our families rely on bus service, but boy, is it difficult to get drivers who meet the federal and state regulations!
What advice do you have for a teacher who is asked to participate in administration self-assessment?
I’d say anyone who wants to understand how East Coast makes decisions and policies should say they are interested in attending. This was truly an educational experience. The two days I spent listening, learning, and contributing opened my eyes to the magnitude of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. It reminded me how important our mission is and how grateful I am to have a job with a company that really does care about its employees and the families that we serve.