When Office of Head Start federal officials inspected Hinds County Human Resource Agency’s (HCHRA) Head Start program five years ago, CLASS observations were just beginning. Compared to other Head Start programs, HCHRA fared below average in two of three categories and unfortunately, fell in the bottom 10% of one category.
The classroom staff monitoring began in 2012 with an observational tool called CLASS, which stands for Classroom Assessment Scoring System and is devised to measure teaching quality. Developed at the University of Virginia, it quantifies three aspects of a teacher’s performance: instructional support, emotional support and classroom organization. These three domains have ten dimensions. In essence, it gives the federal government a report card on teacher quality in each of its nearly 1,600 Head Start programs.
After getting the report in 2014 federal review, HCHRA immediately began to redirect its operations to produce better outcomes. They first realigned their student assessment tools with the curriculum to produce more accurate data. Once they collected this data, they were better equipped to understand their results and use limited resources more wisely.
The agency then sought to invest in classroom staff by setting an aggressive teacher and teacher assistant pay raise schedule. Over the last five years, classroom personnel have seen a 16% salary increase. “Having competitive teacher salaries allows us to both recruit new teachers and to retain the already wonderful ones we have,” says Kenn Cockrell, HCHRA CEO. “In the Jackson metro area, we are competing for teaching staff with both our in-state and out-of-state neighbors. While Mississippi continues to battle with the importance of raising salaries to match higher cost of living, HCHRA took a different approach five years ago and it is already paying off.”
HCHRA also invested a significant amount of time and resources in providing training and technical assistance to its staff. They insured that all education specialists and center administrators (principals) were CLASS certified. They trained and retrained staff on classroom management tools and even made the financial investment to have 34 teachers attend training to become CLASS certified so they could help their peers along the way.
HCHRA’s investments have paid off in a big way. HCHRA was once again inspected by the Office of Head Start in January 2019 using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System and it posted huge gains. Each CLASS dimension uses a 7 point scale. In just 5 years’ time, HCHRA was scored from a quarter point all the way to three quarter points higher than they did during their last review. This growth moved all ten dimensions to within the national average standard.
“We understand that gains in child outcomes are directly correlated with teacher gains,” says Cockrell. “We owe it to our communities to ensure that we’re delivering the best opportunities for our children, and that’s what we’re doing by investing in our staff.” Cockrell went on to say that the most important measure of success for HCHRA is the success of the children and families they serve. One such measure of success is the 3% gain in student literacy goals HCHRA achieved in 2018. “As for the future, HCHRA is looking to be in the highest 10% of all Head Start programs in the nation,” exclaims Cockrell. “Now is the time to move forward even further.”