Austin Seewald, 4, left, and Alexis Herndon, 4, smile at an instructor while making an imaginary Play-Doh meal April 8 at the Moffat County Early Childhood Center. The center recently received three out of four stars from the Qualistar Early Learning Rating System.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Austin Seewald, 4, left, and Alexis Herndon, 4, smile at an instructor while making an imaginary Play-Doh meal April 8 at the Moffat County Early Childhood Center. The center recently received three out of four stars from the Qualistar Early Learning Rating System.

Early Childhood Center receives strong rating from evaluating agency

Looking back on the last 12 years of her job as director of the Moffat County School District’s Early Childhood Center, Sarah Hepworth has many fond memories of her career.

Although she’ll soon be starting a new education position, she’ll be able to mark her days at the center with a star.

Three stars, actually.

The Early Childhood Center received a three-star rating from Qualistar Early Learning Rating System, a nonprofit organization that evaluates the quality of early childhood programs across Colorado.

In 2008, Hepworth and her staff received the highest honor, four stars, from the agency, a rating they missed this year by a small, two-point margin.

Hepworth said the slight dip in the score was due to a change in the program, with the Early Childhood Center’s centralized preschool system redistributed to local elementary schools.

Some staff members who had been part of the 2008 Qualistar rating were not part of the evaluation, which took place solely within the center’s classrooms at the school district’s administration building at 775 Yampa Ave. Other classrooms were ineligible because they had been established for less than a year.

“This is a first baseline for the Early Childhood Center, as it is almost like opening a new program with new teachers,” Hepworth said.

She said the performance by the staff, 60 percent of who are new to the program, was “phenomenal.”

“This says that our staff worked really hard to maintain high quality in a year of incredible transition,” she said.

The evaluation, financed by a grant from the group, Connections 4 Kids, cost about $2,000 per classroom. Programs are rated in five categories: learning environment, family partnerships, training and education, adult-to-child ratios and group sizes, and accreditation.

The process takes between four to five months and involves observing staff and students, verifying teachers’ credentials and surveying random parents.

Hepworth said the “team effort” of staff, children and parents led to the successful evaluation.

“This past year, we were blessed to have partnered with many families experiencing great stress in their lives from the recent challenges of the economy,” she said. “I’m confident that through the multiple supports of our program to both preschoolers and parents, that we were able to provide at least one stable variable in the lives of those young children — a consistent, safe, positive learning environment, where preschoolers could find success and parents could focus on a positive element in their life.”

Hepworth will be taking on a new position starting in August. Named the new principal of East Elementary School, she will be passing the role of center director to Carol Taylor, who has been involved with the program for 15 years.

“She will be an excellent leader who is very passionate about leading the group,” Hepworth said. “Teachers already trust and know her, so the program will continue to move forward in its quest to maintain excellence.”

Hepworth said she looks forward to working with preschool children as an elementary principal, although she will miss her current co-workers.

“Regardless of any ratings, his staff is one of the best group of individuals I have ever worked with,” she said. “They have overcome incredible challenges, have maintained their passion for early learning, and have incredible dedication to young children experiencing challenges.

“This group of women has incredible endurance and perseverance to continue to become teachers of excellence. And that is what they have become.”

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