Day-care center owner Kim Ritchey thinks Maryland EXCELS might be a good thing for families and children.
She’s just not quite sure what the quality rating and improvement system entails or if she will be able to meet its requirements.
“There is a lot I don’t understand yet,” Ritchey said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Ritchey and about 50 other area child-care providers attended an Apples for Children leadership retreat Saturday at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.
Apples for Children Executive Director Fanny Crawford said EXCELS is a voluntary program designed to recognize providers for their level of quality; encourage providers to increase their level of quality; and provide parents with information and choices about child care.
Through the program, providers would receive rating checks indicating quality levels, much like restaurants receive rating stars, Crawford said. Maryland EXCELS has been in a pilot phase throughout the state, she said, and is slated to roll out for a larger field test. The program pertains to family child-care providers and licensed child-care centers as well as public pre-K programs.
“Child-care providers are really just beginning to hear about this. Everybody is anxious,” Crawford said. “We’re hoping (the retreat) will help answer questions and clarify the program.”
Liz Kelley, director of the Office of Childcare for the Maryland State Department of Education, provided the keynote address and led a question-and-answer session.
Kelley acknowledged that EXCELS seems “overwhelming” to providers at first. She encouraged them to continue familiarizing themselves with the program between now and the July 2013 program expansion. She also suggested registering with the program and taking advantage of training opportunities.
“I really believe in this,” she said. “I really think this will provide improved quality of care across the state.”
Karolyn Martin, a family child-care provider and vice president of the Washington County Childcare Association, said the retreat was helpful in keeping providers abreast of important changes. She likes the idea of parents having more information and being more informed about choosing providers, she said.
“Some providers heard about (EXCELS) and had fears or felt defensive,” Martin said. “With this information coming out, it’s a little less overwhelming. It’s helped move away from any misunderstanding.”
Heather Tosten, director of Hagerstown Children’s School and president of the Washington County chapter of the Maryland State Childcare Association, has mixed feelings about EXCELS. Many directors work in the classroom in addition to handling administration and business, Tosten said. EXCELS requires written documentation of “a lot of things many people are already doing.” Meeting additional requirements while focusing on children and continuing to provide excellent care on a daily basis raises fears.
“Anything that improves quality in child care is beneficial to families and children. But I think the process is daunting, long and in-depth and can be very overwhelming,” Tosten said. “The goals are definitely going in the right direction. Getting there is difficult.”