The Step Up to Quality team is an incredible resource for child care providers going through any of the five Steps – and they can also connect providers with other early childhood education resources. As a part of the State of Nebraska Department of Education’s Office of Early Childhood, the Step Up to Quality team works closely with their colleagues within the government and with partner agencies across the state.
To help providers get to know the people behind Step Up to Quality better, we’re featuring each of the team members and their role. This time we’re featuring Rating Specialist Diane Lewis!
Child care providers all across the state might recognize Diane Lewis from her time with the Department of Health and Human Services. She began her career on the Child Care Licensing team.
“Back when I started, just three or four of us covered the entire state,” she said.
After a few years, she became the team’s supervisor, and then after a few more she became the Child Care Grant Manager. When Step Up to Quality started, she was on the work group that helped research what other QRIS programs were doing in other states, and helped put together the standards and indicators. She then joined the Department of Education program as the Rating Specialist. In all, she’s spent a total of 36 years employed by the State of Nebraska, all within the realm of child care and early childhood education.
Over the years, she’s seen the appreciation and respect for the profession grow.
“Unfortunately in the beginning, some people thought of child care providers as babysitters,” Diane said. “Now, there’s no doubt that this is an educational field where a tremendous amount of learning happens.”
Diane knows the difference teachers can make at any age. She grew up in Fremont and earned her psychology degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She credits her teachers along the way with opening her eyes to different possibilities.
“I can think of so many teachers in my life that helped point me in the right direction and gave me encouragement,” she said.
One of her professors in college steered her in the direction of developmental psychology, which led her to her first job out of school, on the Child Care Licensing team. Her experience visiting child care centers and working with owners, directors and family home providers made her the perfect fit for the Ratings Specialist position on the Step Up to Quality team.
“Everyone on the Step Up to Quality team is in the perfect job for their skill set and personality,” Diane said.
The team works closely together, yet everyone has their own specialty that fits within the path of the program. Diane’s role with the Rating Readiness Tools comes into play during Steps 3-5. She coordinates the efforts of two other ratings reviewers, and between the three of them, they cover the entire state.
“We’re the last folks to visit the child care providers after the observations,” Diane said. “We look at the administrative end – the policies, the training and education levels, things like that. We go through the program’s binders or folders they’ve put together to document their progression and we tally their points based on the indicators they’ve chosen.”
Even though Diane’s role comes at the end of the Step Up to Quality journey for many, she celebrates programs at every stage of the process.
“I really applaud every program enrolled in Step Up to Quality – they’re putting in a lot of extra effort for the kids in their care,” she said. “These are programs that want to do more, want to do better for their kids. It’s incredible.”
She admits she has a soft spot for family child care homes, especially when they’re reluctant to participate in Step Up to Quality.
“They’re rocking a baby, feeding a toddler, putting together a crib, planning next week’s meals, all at the same time,” Diane said. “I tell them, ‘You can do hard things. You prove it every day.’ They breeze through these hard days – they can handle the challenges in our program.”
She also encourages child care providers to look at all they themselves can gain from Step Up to Quality.
“We help people discover their strengths and abilities,” Diane said. “I see it all the time, how their confidence builds throughout the process. They grow into their creativity – which helps them teach their kids to grow and learn.”
Ultimately, she appreciates being a part of helping affect the trajectory of a person’s life, from the teacher’s to the child’s.
“People sometimes don’t realize their own potential – they surprise themselves at what they can do,” she said.