In this blog, Damaris Alvarado-Rodriguez explains the strategies she uses to compensate ECE professionals in the manner they deserve.
At Children’s Playhouse, we understand the importance of compensating the workforce fairly, respectfully, and equitably. But what does that mean and what does it take? And how can we not only attract new people to the field but offer them a career trajectory that culminates in leadership roles? My advisory team and I have put time in to answering those questions. The bottom line is this: we ask a lot of teachers, especially now with the influx of children with mental health issues. But even without that, they put so much time into the job beyond the hours spent in the classroom, and they should get what they deserve.
Revisiting the Salary Scale and Adding Benefits
To not lose our teachers to the School District of Philadelphia’s pre-K and Head Start program, I knew we had to come up with a solid plan. We investigated what the district was paying a brand new teacher, not trying to match it, but at least trying to come very close. We ended up creating a compatible salary scale for teachers with certifications and those with bachelor’s degrees on their way to certifications. We went back to the old Keystone STARS career ladders (our state’s Quality Improvement System) from years ago and plugged that in as well.
Further, we pushed not only on the salary base, but on the benefits we could offer. We now offer medical and dental, a 401K, and maternity, paternity, and bereavement pay. In addition, our teachers with bachelor’s degrees have summers off. These benefits are not common in our field, but our abiding goal is to take care of our educators and make sure they feel valued.
Our Good Fortune
I understand that a lot of providers don’t have the budget that we have because they don’t have the funding streams that we do. The fact is, our partnerships and contracts with various public funders–Head Start, Pre-K Counts, and PHLpreK—have helped us get through Covid and even to have an emergency fund.
We don’t receive any philanthropic funds through Children’s Playhouse, but I have been able to receive those dollars through one of the two other organizations I started, Latinos Educando Juntos, which supports small business owners in the Latiné/Hispanic community, especially child care providers.
Recruiting Assistant Teachers
It was challenging to create a strong recruitment plan for assistant teachers given that with just a high school diploma you can go to Amazon and make $18 – $22 an hour. So, I researched how we could provide more opportunities for folks to enter the ECE field at the associate’s-degree level. I applied for funding but was denied, so I funded it on my own. Using the Head Start family engagement model, I went into the communities–to churches, associations, events, and activities–and simply asked, “Who would like to work in child care? Who has a passion for children?” I was surprised to see how many people were interested.
I helped these community members get a CDA credential using funding allocated in our budget for professional development. In the end, we were able to hire eight new staff with high school diplomas. Some had degrees in their own countries that were equivalent to a bachelor’s degree here; they just needed the CDA to receive the ECE credits. And so, they entered the field through this opportunity I created based on the compensation and benefits they stood to earn and the opportunity both to bring their infants and toddlers to work with them and be off with their school-age children on holidays.
Building Leadership from Within
From last year to this year, we’ve seen about 95 percent less staff turnover. With our retention rate what it is, we are focusing now on growing our own leadership, i.e., providing in-house staff with Exceptional Bilingual Leadership Fellowships, which I created with two colleagues. We just completed our first cohort and I can really see the difference in the three staff members who went through it. We’re now starting our second cohort.
Covid’s Impact on our Approach
Our compensation and retention strategies have always been in place but post-Covid, we’ve pivoted to a more holistic approach. We were losing people who didn’t want to come back to work after making money just staying home. We wondered not only about how to bring them back but who to bring back. We only want people who are sure that this is the work they want to do.
Our strategy is “hire slow and fire fast.” Just because we need someone, doesn’t mean I’m going to hire anyone. You have to really be invested in the mission of the program and its growth, your own personal growth, and high quality, and you have to have a love of children. We became more intentional about this after COVID. We adopted the belief that the right person might not be a person with a diploma. Rather, it might be a person we have to invest in.
And the strategy has proven effective. During our NAEYC observation in September, we were so nervous because we had people who were brand new to the field being observed. But their classrooms received very high scores–in the high nineties. This was proof to me that our strategies work.
We’ll Keep Pushing
We still have a lot of work to do, particularly on offering opportunities that bridge the language gap. But it’s something we’re focusing on. If there’s one thing that defines us, it’s that we never stop thinking about how to refine our approach to compensating our ECE teachers as fairly as possible. We think they earn that consideration every day.
Check out the Improving Child Care Compensation Video Series to hear more from Damaris and other leaders whose work is covered in the Improving Child Care Compensation Backgrounder 2021.
Fact Sheet November 22, 2023
The document summarizes the work being done by organizations focused on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Report November 15, 2023
This brief focuses on the ways that states are using PDG B-5 grant funding to create and sustain career pathways in the early care and education field. “Career pathways” are broadly defined here, referring to a wide range of activities that support prospective and current early educators in advancing in the profession. States’ initiatives span an early educator’s complete career trajectory, from strategies to recruit new candidates into the profession to initiatives that create new specializations for educators who want to propel their careers further.
Report November 1, 2023
PDG B-5 Planning and Renewal Grants are being used by states across a wide range of content areas in the early childhood care and education system, and in a variety of ways. The federal funding provides a systems framework and seeks to offer flexibility within that framework. States are using the federal funding to build capacity, create infrastructure, provide direct services, and pilot work that is new for them. This work is occurring within a broad framework provided by the federal government. This brief explores the choices that PDG B-5 grantees plan for the use of the financing provided, which has impact on the overall ECCE systems that they are building and implementing. Within PDG B-5, states had to demonstrate how they would allocate the financial resources available across required and discretionary activity categories. We can learn about their priorities from a look at the choices that they made.