Turning great challenges into opportunities

by Karen Thiel, Lead Quality Navigator

2021 wrapped up a year that was very demanding. Yet, in the face of the challenges brought by the pandemic and the changing child care landscape, our Quality Navigators consistently responded with the same alacrity and high level of professionalism and support that they have always provided.

The beginning of the fiscal 2020-2021 year ushered in major unexpected changes in existing Quality Improvement funding guidelines and Colorado Shines rating processes, as well as a rise in emergency projects designed to help the early childhood field coping with the pandemic. As the year progressed, COVID was unrelenting. Nevertheless, our navigation team responded to the challenges presented and converted difficulties into opportunities.

Thanks to technology, our communication with programs did not falter, with 3582 communications logged, including more than 150 virtual meetings and over three hundred calls. Despite being unable to conduct in-person visits, the navigation team provided consistent coaching and technical assistance to programs moving through the Colorado Shines rating system. Every program that went through a rating received one-on-one support in evaluating their policies and practices with the goal of implementing and maintaining quality improvements.

Directors and individual staff members also received assistance in navigating the PDIS (Professional Development Information System) which is critical for programs to be successful in the Colorado Shines rating system.

This was one director’s response to navigator help with maintaining a Level 4 rating during the pandemic. “As a brand-new director, I could not have done this without you! Thank you for all your support!” Over the course of the 2020-2021 fiscal year our team assisted over fifty programs working towards achieving their Colorado Shines rating.

The navigator team has helped ensure that 55% of all licensed early child care programs in the county of Denver are rated Level 3 or higher. Of that group, 84% have rated at Levels 4 and 5. Not only does the higher quality of a program directly benefit children and families, but it also means increased revenue for programs, translating to improved teacher compensation and other quality improvement/sustaining actions. A natural spinoff of our virtual work also demonstrated to directors how offering virtual opportunities – for example, family conferences – could have a positive impact on family engagement.

The navigation team also supported programs’ access to quality improvement funding. As COVID has had a huge negative impact on the financial viability of programs, this resource has been a boon to programs that participate. In the 2020 – 2021 fiscal year, navigators worked with 205 Early Childhood programs to help them earn Colorado Shines Quality Improvement funding, ten programs to apply for micro-grant funds, and many more programs which benefited from child care sustainability grants. Overall, the navigation team’s work throughout the 2020-2021 fiscal year resulted in positive benefits for early childhood programs facing great challenges. No matter what the pandemic continues to throw our way, we remain committed to the success of Denver’s early childhood programs.


Interested in learning more about how our Quality Navigation team can help your program? Contact me at karen@denverearlychildhood.org.