Winter 2021 Newsletter
Have you ever wondered about the people behind the scenes that provide the some of the administration and inspiration for the Spark processes at The Research Institute at Western Oregon University? Read on to meet Debbie Gouger, who has been part of the Spark team since the very beginning.
My Spark Story by Debbie Gougér
I’ve been involved with the development and operation of Spark at The Research Institute/WOU since the beginning. Spark began as part of an initiative in 2009 called EQUIP (Education and Quality Improvement Partnership) which became Oregon Programs of Quality – a pilot of 30 programs across Oregon. In 2013, the TIERED Quality Rating and Improvement System was developed as part of the federal Race to the Top: Early Challenge grant. This was named Oregon’s Quality Rating and Improvement system and was initially rolled out as a pilot in 2013 statewide in 2014. In 2016 it officially became Spark, Oregon’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. This is just a very brief overview to show what a long history Spark has and what a long way it has come.
It’s been an ongoing challenge to support the goals of measuring program quality and providing resources and opportunities for programs to make improvements. We have always had a focus on helping programs to be successful and part of that was providing a helpline early on where anyone could call with any question and have a helpful, real person on the other end. We knew that since this system was new to everyone and there would be a lot of questions, and many times we found ourselves in the situation of figuring things out as the questions came in! This was all new to us too. As time went on and we have revised forms and processes, often in response to external changes. We have always been guided by two key principles – making processes and documents as simple and as clear as possible and increasing accessibility to support participation for any program that wishes to be a part of Spark. With this in mind, we have continued to provide materials in multiple languages, revised and created materials with more intuitive design and clear language, and have utilized emerging technology to make it easier for users as well as for our own internal tracking and data reporting requirements. For example, where we once only had a paper application option for programs, we now have an on-line version of Spark application available on our website (that can be accessed from a Smartphone). And if you haven’t checked out the new Spark website, you should!
What I love about my role in Spark is that it is always changing and there are continually new challenges to meet. When Spark began, we had a very small team and I provided a lot of direct assistance to programs. As our team and Spark has grown and evolved, although I still do a lot of daily operational tasks, the focus has shifted to collaborating on revisions and improvements especially integrating technology. As we make it easier for programs to engage and be successful in Spark, this will increase the supply of quality early learning programs in Oregon. When more kids have quality early learning experiences, more kids will have better outcomes and be ready for success in school and life. And who can argue with that?
Spark 2021 – Highlights
This was a great year for Spark! Early educators continue to engage in continuous quality improvement efforts by beginning or continuing to participate in Spark. In 2021, 106 programs received Welcome Kits to begin their Spark journey and 37 programs were awarded an initial rating or resubmitted for a higher star level. Welcome and congratulations to all of the early educators who are working to have the highest quality programs for children and families!
Spark Rating Renewal
One way current Spark participants have maintained their Spark status is through the Spark Program Update Report (SPUR). The SPUR is used to update information and/or request an extension or a reinstatement of a star rating. It also collects information about continuous quality improvement efforts, and early educator’s commitment to maintain quality standards. Completing this report annually is required for programs to remain eligible for future opportunities through Spark, such as additional funding.
This year the SPUR has an exciting new component. Programs whose certificates are reaching their expiration date are asked to complete a Spark Rating Renewal portfolio to share how they are continuing to maintain the Spark standards related to their star rating. In completing this process, programs are asked to provide new evidence for a few portfolio standards. These include photos of the program environment, updates on the training program staff have received, and administration of a new Family Survey and ASQ questionnaire. These documents can be submitted electronically or completed using paper copies and mailed. Quality Improvement Specialists are happy to help early educators with this process. Early educators can also reach out for assistance directly to the Spark team through the contact form on the website, the email help desk, or the phone help line. You can find the link to the Spark Program Update Report (SPUR) here: electronic version of the Spark Program Update Report.
The New Spark Web Site Sparkles!
Another way that early educators, families, and early learning system partners can engage with Spark is through the new Spark website. The website can be accessed at https://oregonspark.org. The new site is easy to navigate and features sections for a variety of audiences. The site can also be translated into several languages by clicking the Language link at the top right of the website.
The home page offers visitors opportunities to learn about what Spark is, why it matters, and how Spark benefits children, families and early educators. Families can explore the “Families” tab and connect to Find Child Care Oregon to search for Spark-rated programs in their area. Early educators can learn more about Spark, connect to Spark resources, find the Child Care Resource and Referral agency closest to them, and access the Spark standards. You can also check out Spark data, read through Spark newsletters, and easily reach out to the Spark team through a chat form link, the email help desk, or the phone helpline!
Since the new Spark site debuted in September, we’ve had nearly 2000 different visitors and the various pages have been viewed over 19,000 times! We’re delighted to see early educators, families, and early learning system partners exploring the site, accessing the resources available, and taking advantage of the ease of reaching out to the Spark team by email and phone. Please take a tour now at oregonspark.org and let us know what you think by using the Contact form or filling out the quick survey.