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Teaching the Teachers

After Suzanne Schneider’s first son started attending child care, it dawned on her that she might like working there. She had a degree in education, and, it turned out, an undiscovered passion for teaching little ones. She quickly became the center’s director.

“Early childhood education is so important, and I have a real love for the age group,” she said. “This is where I’m meant to be.”

As she worked in the field longer, Suzanne discovered another passion: developing the teachers.

“Transforming and molding teachers, and helping them grow, ends up impacting the kids. I find that incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Prioritizing Staff Development

As the Director of Westminster Preschool in Lincoln since January 2010, Suzanne has used accreditation and rating programs like Step Up to Quality to not only improve the child development resources of the school but also to help the teachers grow professionally.

“We invest in quality initiatives, and it makes a big difference for everyone,” she said.

When Westminster Preschool initially enrolled in the Step Up to Quality program, they were rated a Step 3. Suzanne’s team worked through the process and made improvements, like updating their curriculum. They made it to the top, a Step 5, the first center to make it to that level in Nebraska.

“Our Step Up to Quality coach was great about understanding who I was and what our program needed. She helped us see areas where we could grow, and find really good staff trainings for us,” Suzanne said.

Step Up to Quality’s program taps into Nebraska’s Early Learning Connection, which is a system that supports the career and professional development of all who provide programs and services for young children, from birth through age eight. It includes:

  • Professional development for early childhood and school-age teachers
  • Support for implementation utilizing early childhood coaches
  • Program quality assessments — Environment Rating Scale (ERS) assessments for early learning
  • Strategic planning with higher education (2-yr and 4-yr) and other adult learning organizations
  • Community engagement and outreach

Strength Training

More than 8,500 people work in child care in Nebraska. And, the state has the highest concentration of child care workers per 1,000 people employed in the entire country.

Westminster Preschool devotes a lot of resources to teacher training and development, even though Suzanne is well aware of the high turnover rate in the industry (the average turnover rate at child care facilities is 30 percent).

“I’m good when they leave, because I see it as one more well-trained teacher out there,” she said. “We need more quality early childhood educators in our state.”

It’s OK to be a Child Care Snob

Jen Nelson has a message for parents looking for child care: it’s OK to be a snob. It’s OK to expect more out of your current provider, too.

As the sole proprietor of Nurture and Nature Family Child Care, Step Up to Quality’s first rated child care provider, and the first in-home program to make it to Step 5, Jen practices what she preaches. She expects more out of herself every day.

Step by Step

Even though on paper it might sound like Jen breezed her way up the Step Up to Quality ladder, achieving all five steps in six months, it was a challenge.

“No one likes people telling them what they’re doing wrong or what they need to improve on. Honestly, you get a little angry about it,” she said. “But you quickly get over it and start making things better.”

At first Jen thought Step Up to Quality might be more geared toward child care centers and not in-home care. But she worked with her Step Up to Quality coach to personalize the journey to the Step 5 rating, including using the observation tool that is specific to family child care homes.

“When I set my mind to something, I find a way to get it,” Jen said.

Thousands of Moments

In the last few years, Jen has made lots of little changes. She started parent/teacher conferences. She has a monthly rotation schedule for her wall displays. She put up pictures of what vegetable or fruit will come out of the plants in their garden – and also has the name listed in English and Spanish.

These little changes have added up to a lot.

“I’ve noticed a difference in the way the kids talk. And I didn’t think about modeling the way I talk as much before,” she said. “The program changes kids, and it’s changed me.”

She makes the smallest of moments into tiny lessons. If the kids are having crackers for a snack, she might talk about the rectangular shape, or she might make it into a subtraction lesson as the kids eat.

“That’s what I’m most proud of, those little things. Especially when one of the kids says, ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘do you need help.’ When one kid comforts another, it warms my heart. It makes me want to learn more and more,” she said.

Always Learning

Even after being a child care provider for 33 years, Jen still has the energy, the motivation and the thirst for knowledge to continually improve.

Because she is the only teacher at her in-home center, looking after as many as eight kids, she uses nap time (and some evenings) to study and network online with fellow child care providers to be better every day. After her Step Up to Quality work was finished, she decided to get her associate’s degree. She graduates this fall.

“I was able to do my practicums and observations here, and it ended up being great for the kids, too, to incorporate that into their lessons,” Jen said.

She tries to travel to conferences and meetings to learn from others all across the region and nation. She plans on diving into a bachelor’s degree program next year, too.

And she has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Jen and her husband have five children, and seven grandchildren, all of whom live in the Omaha area.

“I never thought to myself that after my kids were grown that I would quit, or anything like that,” Jen said. “I’ll keep doing this until my body gives out. I just love it.”

All Kids Deserve Quality Child Care

I’m a mom of two biological kids, but in my heart, I feel like I have hundreds.

Fellow child care teachers and facility owners can back me up. It’s not just a job to us. I would do anything for these kiddos, just like I would my own.

My center, Bright Beginnings, is open from 6 in the morning to 6 at night. Some of the kids are with me for ten or 11 hours a day. We are licensed for 41 kids, so since we opened in 2009, many families have come through our doors. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.

The Best Job I’ve Had

Just like being a mom, our job doesn’t stop in the evening after we’ve cleaned, sanitized and put everything away.

On a recent Sunday, I got a text from the mom of one of my toddlers. She sent a video of her two-year-old daughter counting from one to 15. She thanked me over and over and said, “It melts my heart what you have taught her!”

We have been working on counting with her daughter, and we love every minute of it. I texted her back and said she made my whole Sunday.

I wish parents knew how much of an impact their kids have on us. How their smiles make us smile. How their squeals delight us, and their hugs fill us up. How we live for seeing those lightbulb moments of growth and hitting those milestones.

Another mom recently sent me a photo of her son hitting his first triple in a baseball game. He was the very first infant we cared for. My office walls are covered with photos of my kids, including him. They mean the world to me.

I was originally going to be the cook at Bright Beginnings when it opened, but I had a lot of experience with kids and I quickly became its director. Lisa, our curriculum director, and I have been leading the center ever since, and we often talk about how we want to raise the bar on child care, because we believe that our kiddos deserve the best.

Step Up to Quality Steps In

Once I heard about Step Up to Quality, we decided to go for it. I describe Step Up to Quality as a system that helps the best child care facilities become better. I almost think it should be mandatory. It’s worth it for our kids.

For Bright Beginnings, it was a no-brainer to decide to participate. It was a bit overwhelming at first, and it was a lot of work. We had a few bumps in the road but we took our time with it and worked at our pace.

Step Up to Quality helped us focus on the level of education we were offering, and it helped us improve our environment rating scale measurements (ITERS and ECERS). We had a great foundation to start from, and the key for us was our staff. My team is the absolute best and their commitment to our kids made it easy for us to improve on these items.

The Results

When you enroll in Step Up to Quality, you are almost automatically at a Step 2 (out of five) once you complete the paperwork, set up process and initial training. Where it gets real is the observation and visit from a Step Up to Quality staff member – that’s when you can graduate up to a Step 3.

You can imagine how emotional I was when after all our hard work, we actually moved up two steps to a four! It was incredible news, and even better things started happening for us.

We were profiled in the Fremont newspaper. We were featured in the Rooted in Relationships video for the Fremont Family Coalition. I started getting more calls from new parents about our program. We have a waiting list of families. And, much better candidates for jobs were coming in to interview.

Most importantly, I believe our kiddos know the depth of our love for them. We will never stop improving for them. We are already preparing for our Step 5 rating, I’ve been going back to school, and we are constantly taking classes and reading new methods on early childhood education. We want to show our kids that even big people are always learning, and hopefully that inspires them to be lifelong learners, too.

The Busy First-Time Mom’s Guide to Finding Quality Child Care in Nebraska

When I found out I was going to have a child, I immediately began creating “to do” lists in my head around the kind of pregnancy experience I wanted to have: researching midwives and pediatricians, interviewing friends who were already parents, attending pre-natal yoga classes, and staying on top of work responsibilities while planning for maternity leave…

Searching for childcare on top of all of this was overwhelming. The thought of leaving my baby with strangers when I returned to work after twelve weeks post-partum made me break into a sweat.

If you’re an expecting parent and also feel worried about this last task, make a cup of tea and put your feet up. I have just the thing for you!

6 Easy Steps to Finding Child Care

1. Start early. Many places often have waiting lists for infants.

2. Make a list. (I love lists.) Spend a few minutes writing down what you want from child care. For example, some parents want a location near their home and others want something closer to work. Do you want a breastfeeding-friendly provider where you can feed your baby before leaving for work? Think about those “must haves” that are important to you. It’s different for everyone and that is OK.

3. Ask around. Get recommendations from your friends and co-workers who have gone through the search before. Consider posting on social media for referrals, too.

4. Research online. Read reviews on Google, Facebook and Yelp, and bookmark this page to check for the negative action reports that the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services publishes on the state’s child care providers.

5. Set up tours. It’s one thing to read about a program on a website, but you won’t get a complete view of the facility, staff, philosophies and curriculum until you see everything in person. Notice how you feel during and after the tour. I had places where I felt immediately comfortable and other locations where I couldn’t picture my baby spending her time.

6. Check with Step Up to Quality. It’s a program from the Nebraska Department of Education that helps families find child care providers who go the extra mile in demonstrating their commitment to early childhood education.

The entire Step Up to Quality website is a great resource for parents on what to look for in a child care provider. It has a helpful resource section, but what was most important to me was the listing of child care providers that are going through the program.

I went through the exact steps I listed above, and found that the child care provider that I was leaning toward was in the program, and at a step three! Just being enrolled in the program would have been enough for me, but to find they were advancing through it was icing on the cake. It was incredibly validating and gave me (and still gives me) peace of mind.

I wanted to find a place where my baby would obviously be given the necessary basics, but I also want more for her. I want her to be in a place where she’s loved and cuddled, where she’s challenged to hit developmental milestones, and where I feel a partnership with the teachers, and Step Up to Quality helped me find that. My sweet Harper is my whole world, and knowing she’s safe and cared for and learning new things every day is priceless.

Early Childhood Education State Reports (Public Schools and ESUs)

2016-17 Early Childhood Education Report
Long Report
Programs at a Glance Flyer

The Classroom Assessment Scoring System™ (CLASS)

The Classroom Assessment Scoring System™ (CLASS)

CLASS™ is an observation tool that focuses on the effectiveness of classroom interactions among teachers and children, because it is these daily interactions that promote children’s social and cognitive development.

CLASS™ observation tools have been developed for Infant, Toddler, Pre-K, K-3, Upper Elementary and Secondary age groups.

At every age level, the CLASS™ measure focuses on interactions that support learning. No matter which age or grade level of the tool you use, developmentally appropriate interactions are organized into domains and dimensions:

Responsive Caregiving

  • Relational Climate
  • Teacher Sensitivity
  • Facilitated Exploration
  • Early Language Support

Emotional and Behavioral Support/Engaged Support for Learning

    • Positive Climate
    • Negative Climate
    • Teacher Sensitivity
    • Regard for Child Perspectives
    • Behavior Guidance
    • Facilitation of Learning and Development
    • Quality of Feedback
    • Language Modeling

Emotional Support

      • Positive Climate
      • Negative Climate
      • Teacher Sensitivity
      • Regard for Student Perspectives

Classroom Organization

      • Behavior Management
      • Productivity
      • Instructional Learning Formats

Instructional Support

      • Concept Development
      • Quality of Feedback
      • Language Modeling

Emotional Support

      • Positive Climate
      • Negative Climate
      • Teacher Sensitivity
      • Regard for Student Perspective

Classroom Organization

      • Behavior Management
      • Productivity
      • Instructional Learning Formats

Instructional Support

      • Concept Development
      • Quality of Feedback
      • Language Modeling

Emotional Support

      • Positive Climate
      • Negative Climate
      • Teacher Sensitivity
      • Regard for Student Perspective

Classroom Organization

      • Behavior Management
      • Productivity
      • Negative Climate

Instructional Support

      • Instructional Learning Formats
      • Content Understanding
      • Analysis and Inquiry
      • Quality of Feedback
      • Instructional Dialogue

CLASS 2018 Training Schedule

For more information on this training, contact Sarah Baird at sarah.baird@unmc.edu or call 402-559-4210

Morgan Krull

Morgan Krull

Step Up to Quality Program Coordinator

Morgan is the newest addition to the Step Up to Quality Team. She is excited to assist programs and their staff as they start and continue on their path to quality.

Morgan will help to answer any questions about Step Up to Quality or the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System. She is looking forward to serving providers and families through the helpline.

In her free time, Morgan enjoys spending time with family and friends. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Nicole Vint

Nicole Vint

Child Care Subsidy Administrator

Nicole has been a part of Step Up to Quality since 2013. Nicole actively works to increase accessibility and quality of child care for low income children and families in her role as Administrator for the Child Care and Development Fund Program with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Nicole has been with DHHS for more than 12 years in an array of positions. Much of her experience has been with the Division of Children and Family Services, Economic Assistance, focusing on empowering individuals and families to become self-sufficient.

Nicole received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Nebraska Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in social work, with an emphasis on children and families, from the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Nicole enjoys spending time with her husband and children. Her pride and joy are her three beautiful daughters.

Tammi Hicken

Tammi Hicken

Early Childhood Data Manager

Tammi is in charge of the design and development of the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System (NECPRS). She works with Step Up to Quality staff to coordinate building and design efforts with the NECPRS programmers.

Tammi has worked for the Nebraska Department of Education for more than 10 years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and information management systems from Chadron State College.

Tammi and her family enjoy exploring different attractions across the state.

Melody Hobson

Melody Hobson

Early Childhood Administrator

Melody is the Administrator of the Office of Early Childhood at the Nebraska Department of Education. As a former child care director, Melody has always felt that a Quality Rating Improvement System, like Step Up to Quality, would help programs communicate their quality to the communities they serve.

Melody holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska Omaha and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She has approximately 10 years of experience as a teacher and director in community–based early childhood education and care programs.

Melody and her husband enjoy riding their bikes on local trails, as well as spending time with their son and daughter.