Educational First Steps
For twenty-five years, Educational First Steps (EFS) has been transforming daycare centers in low-income neighborhoods into nationally accredited early learning centers. Their goal is to set at-risk children on a path to success by improving the quality of early childhood education through mentoring, training, and monitoring early learning centers in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
A powerful tool in this effort is a custom-built website, called the Mentoring Academy and Assessment Profile (MAAP), that enables EFS staff to efficiently collect and display data, identify areas of need, and track results of their work. EFS Executive Director John Breitfeller acknowledges Skvare for the increase in funding because the MAAP system allows him to show funders the results of their work supported by real data. Samantha Moya, Senior Director of Early Learning Programs, confirms the value of the program. “MAAP allows us to make data-driven decisions. We’re using our own information, not someone else’s. It tells the best story of the impact we’re making.”
EFS wanted to deliver the training materials in an online format that could be maintained by staff and give their field specialists remote access to real-time data. EFS initially used a shared drive of more than 200 PDF’s, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets which included embedded links to graphs, charts, and tables. Versioning and editing permissions were not easy to control. Staff were making copies of outdated files, providing feedback on incorrect forms, and dependent on in-office shared-network access.
Along with managing documents, EFS needed to track the large amount of data and intricate steps required for each early learning center to attain national accreditation. The process spans over a period of approximately 40 months. Four Steps to Excellence 2.0 is Educational First Steps’ signature program that guides early learning centers serving at-risk children to national accreditation. After a 4-month evaluation period, qualifying centers move on to Phase 2 - two years of training and guidance to bring up the standards of the early learning center. During this time, EFS provides mentoring and assesses progress as the center’s educators continually meet milestones in attaining their Childcare Development Associate Credentials. Phase 3 is a one-year period of continued self-study for the early learning center staff and leadership. EFS provides mentoring and assessments to ensure continued growth. Finally, once the early learning center achieves national accreditation, they enter the upkeep phase of the program, supported by annual coaching and assessments.
Educational First Steps needed a cloud-based solution to:
- Manage contacts for individuals and organizations;
- Track the steps towards accreditation for early learning centers;
- Display dashboards for each staff position, showing useful listings and reports;
- View and input data from any place with internet access; and
- Manage all educational Standards-related data, contacts, and training events in one place.
Skvare developed a private website for EFS called the Mentoring Academy and Assessment Profile (MAAP). MAAP gives management and staff access to educational Standards guides (comprised of NAC, NAEYC and State Licensing requirements), tracks mentoring and training levels for individual educators, displays site visit progress, assessments, reports, and manages training registration. No longer victims to outdated information, EFS staff now have access to up-to-date documents and reports. MAAP gives EFS field specialists the ability to enter data from their site visits in real time. As a result, the data is immediately transformed into reports on dashboards that show progress toward goals for each early learning educator and center.
The password-protected website is accessible only by EFS staff. You can learn more about their work by visiting their public-facing website.
Phases of Development
Work on the site spans more than four years, with work performed in multiple stages.
The first stage started with a Drupal 7 installation to manage the documentation. Skvare took the documents from the shared drive and put them into a searchable database of Standards organized by staff position, level and subject. Skvare made extensive use of Drupal’s Taxonomy infrastructure. After seeing the potential of this system, EFS wanted to add more functionality.
The next phase added maps and budgets for each of the centers, along with a display of reports for each center. Intermediate stages of development added dashboard views of staff and early learning center progress, giving EFS field specialists a way to monitor center visits and teacher profiles.
When EFS was ready for more features, user dashboards based for each of the EFS staff roles were added. The next phase in development brought dashboards for early learning center staff, along with mentor logs and progress reports for each educator on their way to attaining the CDA credential.
The most recent round of development added a calendar and online registration for workshops. It allows the EFS field specialist to recommend training, administrators can create events, and early learning center Directors can use a custom dashboard to identify training needs for their staff. From there, they can register their staff members for training.
Skvare staff provided on-site and remote training at each stage to orient staff to changes in the system.
Custom dashboards and real-time data
Skvare brought the display of reports, data and listings front and center so that EFS could gain helpful insights into their work. When an EFS staff member logs into the private website, called MAAP, a CiviCRM home screen shows a menu of items, such as:
- Center map
- Center budget
- Center visit report
- Contact forms
- Quarterly report
- Administration and Classroom Assessments
- Overall Assessment Reports and Scoring
- Student-to-teacher ratio
- Director and teacher profiles
- EFS staff assigned to the center
All the above reflect up-to-date information, since EFS field staff are inputting data each day.
“MAAP has been very beneficial on our end by streamlining a process for our field staff to use to bring centers to quality,” says Samantha Moya, Senior Director of Early Learning Programs. “It speeds up the time it takes for the early learning centers to get to accreditation, reducing the timeframe by about 20 months when compared to before we had the system.” At the granular level, EFS staff can see which of the 227 educational Standards a teacher has mastered, and percentage progress towards attaining their Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential. Progress reports showing such details as accreditation status of a center or educational level of each educator within a center are displayed using the Views and Display Suite modules.
Skvare developed several custom modules to handle various custom functionality required by EFS. In particular the scoring of individual administration and classroom assessments was calculated and formatted for display. The Field collection module was used to handle mentor log functions. When a new Center staff person profile is created, the system automatically generates all the data items that will be needed in the mentor log. As new Standards are added, the mentor logs are updated accordingly.
Another key custom module Skvare developed is for the director dashboard. The director dashboard allows a center’s director to log in and manage their staff’s training registrations and view up-to-date reports of their mentoring progress.
Skvare has received overwhelmingly positive feedback because it revolutionized the way EFS does their work.
A searchable calendar displays information on training workshops at the Educational First Steps Early Learning Center in Dallas. Educators can register for the workshops online, and the system automatically adds the credentials to the educator’s personnel record upon completion. At a glance, a childcare center director can see the training levels of each staff member and even register individual employees for workshops.
Training and Support
Skvare provided more than 60 hours of training with their data analysts and senior management, meeting on site, via phone, and email. Skvare staff trained EFS field specialists on data entry, navigating the system, and how to use the website to help them in their roles. Skvare staff showed EFS assessors how to use their tools and trained managers on getting the data they need to make decisions about allocating resources.
Samantha Moya, Senior Director of Early Learning Programs, has been with the project since the beginning. As the importance of MAAP has grown, so has her department. Together with an Administrative Assistant and a Data Analyst they manage technical support, data integrity and reporting for the site.
Skvare provides fully-managed hosting on dedicated servers, optimized for data protection, security and performance. Samantha Moya, Senior Director of Early Learning Programs, confirms, “Knowing that MAAP is safe and sound with Skvare is comforting. I feel confident that we won’t ever lose any information. I don’t have to worry. Skvare gives me that confidence.”
The new website helped Educational First Steps become more organized and efficient. Customized dashboards and report snapshots show EFS specialists and assessors where there are gaps in training. As a result, early learning centers can more quickly achieve accreditation because it’s easy to track what goals they’ve met and what remains to be done. Research shows high-quality early education is key to long-term success, and it’s often the poorest children who are going without. When so much is at stake, it’s comforting to know that EFS is armed with the best tools to help them meet the challenge and increase learning in hundreds of classrooms each year.