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By Brenda Brissette-Mata
When organizers of the nation’s largest conference devoted to building early childhood systems look for cutting edge activities and ideas to showcase, they turn to Michigan.
This year is no different. Michigan’s early childhood leaders have been asked to return once again to the National Smart Start Conference in Greensboro, N.C. and share with early childhood advocates from across the country, the innovative ideas and plans being put to work in this state.
Sponsored by The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. the conference, held April 30 to May 3, provides professional development for early childhood leaders committed to improving the quality of and access to early childhood services for all children. Participants from across the country, including government, nonprofit, community and business leaders, are able to access the latest research, learn new skills and share lessons learned. Attendees come from all facets of early care and education.
Keynote presenters at this year’s conference include the Early Childhood Investment Corporation’s Joan Blough, Senior Vice President of Great Start System Strategy and Evaluation, Alissa Parks, Senior Director of Great Start Consultation and Technical Assistance, along with Pennie Foster-Fishman, professor in the Department of Psychology and a Senior Outreach Fellow with University Outreach and Engagement at Michigan State University.
Their presentation: “Why Local Matters: Systems Leadership for Community Change.” The interactive two-hour presentation will share levers for effective local systems change that have been identified and evaluated through Michigan’s Great Start initiative. The successful effort in Michigan has created conditions for effective local leadership that enables communities to move collectively to improve outcomes for young children and families.
“We will talk about what ‘system-building’ means and what is needed to build a system that lead to high-quality, sustained services and supports for young children and families,” Blough said.
“We are learning so much about what it takes to change local early childhood systems to ensure better outcomes for young children and their families. It is an honor to present Michigan’s work to our colleagues from North Carolina and across the country,” Parks added.
Also conducting workshops at the conference are Early Childhood Investment Director of Early Learning Innovation, Karen Roback and Sarah Triplett, who heads the efforts for the Sandbox Party.
Triplett’s workshop will consist of background on how Michigan’s Sandbox Party came to be, including tips on the successes and challenges of advocacy and how to develop new strategies for enhancing grassroots advocacy with innovative ideas to help build a movement for early childhood across state lines.
Along with Denise Smith, Director of Great Start to Quality at the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, Roback will share details of Michigan’s unique approach for a tiered quality rating and improvement system. The workshop is designed to provide participants with an overview of Great Start to Quality, Michigan’s tiered quality rating and improvement system, with particular emphasis on unlicensed providers.
The overview will include: a description of the Great Start to Quality continuum and the quality tiers and levels, the online, web-based platform, quality improvement supports and services, partnerships and collaborations, and participation rates.
“Great Start to Quality is an unprecedented approach because it includes both licensed early learning and development programs and unlicensed, subsidized providers,” she said.
Only in the very initial phase of implementation, Michigan has already surpassed the goal set for the first year, which was to engage 2,000 early learning and development programs in Great Start to Quality. They have already reached more than 2,800.
Also from Michigan’s Great Start Network are presenters Donna Lackie and Lisa Sturges of the Great Start Collaborative-Oakland. They will be part of three workshops: “Watch Me Grow: Infusing Developmental Screening into Early Childhood Programs”; “Strengthening Families” which will focus on the five protective factors that promote optimal child development and build strong families; and “Developing an Early Childhood Career Lattice: A Michigan Case Study,” with Colin Newlin of Braintree Solution Consulting focused on a case study of three Michigan counties and the Great Start Collaborative. The session will include a review of the information collection process and how to develop a career lattice.