The Moffat County School District's Early Childhood Center recently received a four-star rating from the Qualistar Early Learning, a nonprofit organization that rates early childhood education programs throughout the state. Pictured above, front row from left is, Kim Maneotis, middle row, Lisa Wood, Jeni Jones, Katrina Willey and Heather Higgins, back row, Jen Darveau, Mary Ginther, Carol Taylor and Sarah Hepworth.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

The Moffat County School District's Early Childhood Center recently received a four-star rating from the Qualistar Early Learning, a nonprofit organization that rates early childhood education programs throughout the state. Pictured above, front row from left is, Kim Maneotis, middle row, Lisa Wood, Jeni Jones, Katrina Willey and Heather Higgins, back row, Jen Darveau, Mary Ginther, Carol Taylor and Sarah Hepworth.

Four-star euphoria

Early Childhood Center receives highest rating from evaluators

— The Moffat County School District's Early Childhood Center wanted to make a statement, director Sarah Hepworth said.

Results from a recent evaluation may have hit the mark.

The Childhood Center, which provides preschool and kindergarten services, received the highest rating possible from Qualistar Early Learning, a nonprofit organization that rates early childhood education programs across the state.

The rating "is a symbol of the quality that we can offer children in our program," Hepworth said. "We also did it to be a model for the community."

The Colorado Department of Education recommends the evaluation for programs that receive state funding, she said.

"We feel like a public school preschool ought to be doing what is recommended by the state, as well as modeling best practices," Hepworth said.

Qualistar rates early learning programs on five main components, according to the organization's Web site. Those components include learning environment, family partnerships, the training and education levels of the program's providers, adult-to-child ratios and whether the program has received accreditation from a national accrediting agency.

A Qualistar evaluator visited the Childhood Center in May. Before the evaluator's visit, Childhood Center providers collected and submitted evidence "to show what our program is and how we operate," she said.

Hepworth is scheduled to meet with a Qualistar representative at the end of the month to review the evaluation, she said.

A four-star rating sends a detailed message to parents whose children attend the Childhood Center, said Sara Tobin, Qualistar Early Learning marketing and communications director.

"If nothing else, it means that (four-star rating recipients) are committed to providing the best care possible for the children and families that they serve," she said.

A grant from the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, which provides funds for child development programs in Colorado, paid for the evaluation, Hepworth said, adding that the assessment process cost more than $4,800.

A lack of funds prevented the Childhood Center from undergoing the evaluation earlier.

"It's so expensive," Hepworth said. "It wasn't feasible to do it any other way."

However, Hepworth said, she hopes the Childhood Center continues receiving Qualistar assessments every two to three years.

"The idea is to continue to have your program evaluated so that you can maintain that level of quality and keep moving up the ladder of excellence," she said.

The rating also could help the Childhood Center secure more grants in the future.

Hepworth said Qualistar notified her of the Childhood Center's evaluation results Tuesday. The same day, she said, a granting agency the Childhood Center had applied to earlier asked if the center had received a Qualistar rating.

"That was an essential component of their evaluation of our grant," she said.

Nontheless, Hepworth greeted the idea of future grants stemming from the rating with a mixture of anticipation and reserve.

"We're hoping," she said. "We'll see."

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