The Step Up to Quality team is an incredible resource for child care providers moving through the process – 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. Let’s get to know Quality Specialist Jenny Fleming a little better!
Teaching might very well be in Jenny Fleming’s blood. Her aunts were teachers, her sister is a teacher, her daughter is on the cusp of becoming one, and Jenny herself taught for many years.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and she’s spent her entire career in various roles in the field, including as a program director.
“I love all ages, but I am always drawn to the baby room. I love seeing how fast they grow and how much they change,” she said. “When I retire, I want to go rock babies.”
Even at that baby stage, she experienced the strong bonds that can develop between the caregiver and the child.
“It reaffirmed to me how important those early years are,” she said. “And no matter your role in early childhood education, you have an impact.”
Jenny joined the Step Up to Quality team in May 2016. She knew about Step Up to Quality because she had participated in a pilot for it as a director of a center, and was eager to contribute to improving the quality of care children receive on a bigger scale.
“The investments we make now and the emotional support we provide early on in children’s lives, we see pay off when they’re grown adults,” she said. “That strong social emotional support system is so important.”
As the Quality Specialist on the Step Up to Quality team, Jenny’s role is mainly centered around the observations, which start at Step 3. She coordinates a team of about 10 early childhood education professionals who are experts in the observation tools and who are contracted to conduct observations at programs who want to continue learning more about improving the quality of their care.
Step Up to Quality uses three versions of Environment Rating Scales (ERS), and three versions of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). Those versions exist to address the differences in various age groups and type of providers being rated, so not all tools are used for every program. Each of the observers have specialized expertise in a certain tool, so Jenny works to match the provider with the most appropriate observer.
Something that not everyone realizes is that the observers must continuously verify their knowledge of the tools. On every tenth observation, or once a year, an “anchor” accompanies the observer, to make sure the observer’s and the anchor’s scores are aligned.
“We want to make sure the data is as accurate as possible, and that the observers are using the tools to fidelity,” Jenny said.
Providers are matched with an observer once they submit the Rating Readiness Tool after they reach Step 2. Once the form is filled out, Jenny contacts the provider to schedule the observation within three months of the form’s submission.
Jenny knows that providers may be nervous about the idea of someone coming into their space.
“I hear the hesitancy in their voice sometimes,” she said. “I understand that they can be nervous and overwhelmed, but I want them to know this is their opportunity to shine and to show off.”
Above all, she wants providers to know that it’s not about the resulting score.
“Step Up to Quality is about progress. It’s about making these practices second-nature. It’s about growth and support. No matter where you are on the path, there’s always room for improvements,” she said. “And, our whole team has the utmost respect for the work they do. We’re here cheering them on.”