State of the Helen Day Preschool Academy

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By: J. Glenn Hopkins, President/CEO

Highlights of this school year:

Helen Day Preschool Academy accreditation was renewed by the NAEYC.  This is no small accomplishment.  Earning and maintaining accreditation is quite difficult.  It requires months of study and preparation, evening and weekend staff training, and achievement of ten rigorous performance standards.  

NAEYC accreditation is a nationally recognized mark of distinction that places our academy among just 8 percent of early childhood programs nationwide found by independent assessors to be of the highest quality in terms of staff credentials and skills, parent and family engagement, and child development.

Our Young Scholars Scored Above Average on Statewide Literacy Screening.  Literacy is essential to academic achievement, at all levels. The majority of our Young Scholars scored significantly above the recommended baseline for children entering kindergarten on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS). PALS is administered by preschools statewide as a means to assess children’s readiness for kindergarten.  

Our PALS scores indicate that our Young Scholars graduating this summer, will arrive in kindergarten this fall extremely well prepared for literacy achievement.

Much credit is due Principal Keith, our faculty, and the entire academy team for both of these successes.

Challenges of this school year:

Recruiting and Hiring Quality Faculty for the Academy.  We have largely filled the ranks of our faculty thinned last fall by a confluence of unfortunate and unexpected events.  However, our challenge at Hopkins House is not as much about retaining top-notch faculty as finding them.

The child care field in this country is notorious for low pay and high turnover.  Reform, in how the profession compensates, credentials, and trains early childhood professionals, is essential not only for Hopkins House but for families with young children and the early childhood education providers that serve them.

Hopkins House leads in the region in the compensation we pay to our early care and education staff, the training we provide to them, and the high performance standards to which we hold them.

Ensuring the Safety of Children in Child Care.  A key element that slows our ability to quickly recruit and hire Academy faculty is the issue of safety.  In addition to a college degree and years of experience caring for children, those hired at Hopkins House must also have a spotless background when it comes to child safety.  Sadly, not every child care worker has a spotless safety record, as evidenced by the nine children who died in 2014 in unsafe childcare settings and the more than 50 children that have died over the past decade.

Hopkins House is among the lead institutions working to support enactment of laws requiring fingerprint background checks for child care workers.  Currently, only a handful of states require fingerprint background checks and, until this year, Virginia was not one of them.

The good news is that we are making progress on this front.  With federal pressure, lots of help from partner organizations and the public, and the commitment of a handful of political leaders, we managed to get a bill though the General Assembly this year requiring fingerprint background checks in Virginia.  Unfortunately, the law signed by the Governor applies only to centers that receive federal child care subsidy funds, as does Hopkins House.  We are supporting the effort to amend the law extending its application to all child care providers in Virginia, whether they do or do not receive federal funds.

Moving Forward:

Enhancing Our Communications Protocols.  Rightly so, parents have asked to be kept informed regarding activities and events at the academy, particularly as they relate directly to their children.  Over the past several months, we have worked closely with the Parents Council Executive Committee to improve and enhance communication at the academy.  Parent mailboxes have been installed in the lobby, email distribution lists cleaned up, website features added (e.g. Teacher emailing, staff training agenda), and social media outreach enhanced.

Upgraded Student Computer Center.  We judge the true quality of our academy by the achievements of our Young Scholars in school and in life.  Digital awareness is an emerging determinant of early academic success.  By the end of this month, through the generosity of Mr. & Mrs. Mark Moore, we will upgrade our student computer center with new, handheld computers for children, and expand computer based training for faculty – with the goal to develop and enhance digital awareness in our Young Scholars.

Ensuring a Socio-Economically Diverse Student Body.  Reports abound about the benefits of socio-economic diversity in academic settings, including quality preschools. A founding principle of this institution, in addition to social justice, is socio-economic diversity.  For the sake of our Young Scholars, as an institution, we are committed to a student body in our academy that reflects the diverse world community in to which they were born and will live out their lives.

To be sure, enrollment diversity is a complex issue embedded in institutional policy, legacy, and money.

A key component of encouraging and supporting socio-economic diversity is making our academy affordable to a wide range of incomes. This means that a substantial portion of our annual budget – a quarter or more – must be raised from sources other than tuition and related earned income. That is, through donor support and fundraising.

Through donor support and fundraising, Hopkins House is able to subsidize the tuition, making our academy affordable to working and low-resourced families.  Without donor support and income from fundraising, academy tuition would likely be 25-30% higher and beyond the reach of many families.

Donor Support and Fundraising is Key. Over the next several months, we are undertaking a series of small fundraising campaigns designed to help build the resources necessary to keep our academy affordable and accessible to the rainbow of children deserving of the benefits of attending the Hopkins House Preschool Academy.  

If you share a commitment to socio-economic diversity, I invite you to help with this effort.  On April 22 we are launching a one-day, online campaign, Spring2Action Alexandria.  If every parent at our academy set a goal to raise $500 in online giving to Hopkins House on April 22, we would be $37,500 closer to keeping the academy affordable and open to families of all incomes.



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