When the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) awarded First Presbyterian Head Start Center the highest possible EXCELS rating of 5 in 2017, it was a source of great joy for more than one reason.
First, it showed that First Presbyterian had shown considerable progress by improving its previous EXCELS rating of 1, though even a 1 rating is considered a quality early education program.
Second, the Community Action Council of Howard County (CAC) that oversees all the county’s Head Start Centers, can boast a Maryland EXCELS rating of 5 simultaneously in all four of its centers. The others are Dasher Green, Ellicott City, and Old Cedar Lane.
That’s no small feat because Maryland EXCELS ratings of 5 are not handed out like candy on Halloween. As of August 2017, only 275 ratings of 5 were given out of almost 4,000 published ratings.
“It took time, effort, and paperwork,” said Don Corbin, referring to First Presbyterian’s improved rating. Mr. Corbin has been in charge of the EXCELS process in CAC’s Head Start centers for about a year, and managed to get First Presbyterian’s phenomenal rating increase in addition to his other duties as education coordinator and interim center manager at First Presbyterian and Old Cedar Lane Head Start centers.
The Maryland EXCELS program is based on five main components. They are health and safety compliance, professional development, accreditation, developmentally appropriate activities, and administrative practices.
Maryland EXCELS recognizes programs for their “commitment to high quality child care and early education,” according to the MSDE EXCELS website. To be recognized, programs must demonstrate best practices that exceed state licensing requirements.
While working on First Presbyterian’s EXCELS process, First Presbyterian and Ellicott City Head Start Centers were undergoing the MSDE Early Childhood Accreditation process. Both Head Starts successfully completed their accreditation this year.
The Early Childhood Accreditation process may have helped improve First Presbyterian Head Start’s EXCELS rating because staff was working on devising strategies and making adjustments to complete the accreditation process. A number of these improved adjustments supported the requirements of Maryland EXCELS.
Though the Early Childhood Accreditation and EXCELS programs both fall under the auspices of the MSDE, they are not related and there are major differences between them. The accreditation process is required to receive state and federal funds, and requires an on-site monitoring visit from MSDE to observe and make recommendations for ongoing program improvement. Maryland EXCELS is a process undertaken voluntarily using an online process with an EXCELS coordinator assigned to each organization that seeks to participate. Also, EXCELS work is continuously updated and resubmitted because ratings can be changed quickly, while accreditation is completed in a span of a few consecutive months every three years.
The Head Start team, including center managers, teachers, members of the Health and Special Projects team and Mr. Corbin, are directly involved throughout the entire accreditation process. As the Head Start Education Coordinator, Mr. Corbin is responsible for navigating the centers through the EXCELS process, including serving as the primary contact for MSDE. The education coordinator’s primary job is to provide evidence of the incredible work and commitment of his Head Start team in teaching children to prepare to enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.
The benefits for all programs participating in the Maryland EXCELS program with a rating of 1 or higher include increased Child Care Subsidy reimbursements, discounts from various vendors, assistance with training and professional development, as well as marketing and advertising opportunities.
“CAC’s Head Start program achieved the agency’s vision of having all four of our Head Start Centers accredited by MSDE, Maryland EXCELS and National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). This is a huge accomplishment and a demonstration of the Head Start team’s proficiency and commitment in providing high quality, early childhood education programs throughout Howard County,” stated Alice Harris, Director of Head Start.