Meet Ashley Mickels, the Spark Specialist at the Early Learning Division!

What would you like to share about your background?

I was born and raised in Oregon, primarily in the Columbia River Gorge. By the time I was 8 years old, I knew I wanted to be a parent and a teacher when I grew up. In high school, that had not changed, all I needed to decide was what age group to teach. After student teaching in an elementary school, babysitting infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-agers, and spending oodles of time watching my adorably curious (and exceptionally cute) nephew, I knew I wanted to become a preschool teacher. Seeing the world through preschoolers’ eyes is absolutely magical! They have a way of turning the simple things in life, like spotting an airplane flying overhead, into bubbling joy and wonder. Back then, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my work day than walking alongside a group of preschoolers as they journey to learn about themselves and the world around them.

After graduating high school, I pursued my associate degree in Early Childhood Education at Columbia Gorge Community College and Portland Community College and started working as a preschool teacher for Head Start during my student practicum course. Graduating with my associate degree was a big deal for me, as I was the first person in my family to have done so.

I taught preschool for 6 years before becoming a stay-at-home parent and college student. Several years, and two children later, I completed my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Business from Eastern Oregon University. Over the years, I taught preschool in a few different settings, including a Reggio-inspired certified family child care program and a K-12 school district-operated preschool program.

In 2017, I was hired to teach ECE courses at Columbia Gorge Community College, part-time. A year later, I was elected Career & Technical Education Department Co-Chair and had the wonderful opportunity to collaboratively redesign our ECE program to align with the 2020 NAEYC Professional Standards and Competencies for Early Childhood Educators. While at CGCC, I partnered with Nancey Patten and the amazing team at Child Care Partners on many projects and eventually joined their team as a Professional Development Navigator.

What interested you in the Spark Specialist position at the Early Learning Division?

Many things drew me to this position, but I just kept thinking about how amazing it would be to positively impact the lives of children, families, and early learning and care professionals across the ENTIRE state!

I saw this position as a wonderful opportunity to work collaboratively with the field to improve Spark. Our field already works so hard and I believe that together we can reimagine Spark to become part of a support system that assists professionals on their journey of continuous quality improvement. Not hoops to jump through, but a place to turn for guidance, support, and recognition.

Exciting Spark Updates!

Spark Rating Renewal 

Spark has some exciting new options for renewing your star rating certificate!

Initial star ratings last for 3 years and can be extended in one-year increments. Previously, programs could extend their certificate by completing a Spark Program Update Report (SPUR).  After determining that the SPUR did not  did not fully capture all of the activities that programs were engaged in to maintain the level of quality represented by their Spark rating, it was decided to create a more robust and meaningful process.

Programs now have 5 options to share their continuous quality improvement efforts and extend their Spark certificate for one year. These options allow programs to choose which activities are most relevant and share the outcome of their efforts.

 Option 1 –  Complete a Spark Renewal Portfolio 

The Spark Rating Renewal Portfolio consists of 9 Spark standards. The Renewal Portfolio can be submitted electronically, or printed and sent in via email or postal mail.

Option 2 – Resubmit your Spark Portfolio for a higher star rating

Have you been thinking about resubmitting your portfolio for a higher star rating? This is a great time to do it and we are happy to help. Reach out for the most current version of the Spark portfolio, and your previous Summary Score Sheet, if needed.

Option 3 – Request an on-site observation

Invite a member of the Spark Assessment team to do an on-site observation with your program. The assessor will use either the CLASS (Classroom Assessment Scoring System) or the ERS (Environment Rating Scale) tool to evaluate your program environment and interactions. A detailed summary will be shared with you, highlighting strengths and offering opportunities for growth.

Option 4 – Participate in collaborative CQI efforts 

Are you currently part of a Focused Child Care Network, or working with a coach or mentor? If so, you can share your experiences, goals and continuous quality improvement efforts to renew your Spark certificate.

Option 5 – Participate in professional development activities related to Spark Standards

Professional development is a great way to ensure that your program environment, policies, and practices are aligned with the Spark standards. You can renew your Spark certificate by sharing the activities you and your staff have participated in during the past year and how you have implemented what you learned.

Is your Spark certificate due for renewal? You can begin this process by completing a SPUR, which can be found on our website, here:  Scroll down to find the Spark Program Update Report which is available in Spanish, Russian, and English. On the form, click on box #2,  I would like an updated certificate showing my rating is current. (If your rating has expired, you may be emailed a Rating Renewal to complete before an updated certificate is sent.) When we receive your SPUR, you will be sent the information and documents needed to select your renewal method and complete the process. You will also be sent a 3-month extension of your certificate to allow time to complete the process. If you need additional time, just let us know!

For more information about any aspect of the renewal process,  please contact the Spark Helpline at 877-768-8290 or

Continue Growing and Learning: Schedule an On-site Observation in Your Program

Are you a Spark-rated program interested in receiving feedback about your program’s practices? If so, you are eligible to receive an on-site observation to get feedback on your program’s strengths as well as areas for growth. Assessments are being conducted all over Oregon in all program types. Programs receive reports after the observation to help guide their Continuous Quality Improvement. You can click here to learn more (bottom right square of the grid with the word “Grow”) and to get added to the waiting list:  or contact Candi Scott, the Assessment Coordinator, at or 503-838-9204

We are looking forward to supporting your Spark journey!

Professional Development opportunities