Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

When preschool and out-of-school time teachers need resources to improve as professionals, they can turn to Massachusetts’ Educator and Provider Support (EPS) networks.

The networks just received $3.17 million in state-funded grant awards to help educators improve their skills and knowledge.

The EPS grant funds will focus on “three core areas of the professional development system: educator and provider planning, coaching and mentoring, and competency development,” according to the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC).

“We know from academic research, from years of public policy and from our own experience as parents that investing in our children at a young age pays huge dividends for them and for our communities as a whole,” Governor Deval Patrick said in a press release. “Part of that is ensuring the people who care [for] and teach our children are well prepared and supported in their work. These grants will go a long way in helping us enhance the quality of the early education and out-of-school services available to families across Massachusetts.”

EEC states that the grant will support a range of goals, including:

– Support for educators to increase their competency and earn a degree, certificate or credential in early childhood education or a related field.

– Coaching and mentoring to help educators set and achieve professional and academic goals.

– Help for providers and programs to achieve and maintain accreditation.

– Support for providers and programs to increase their rating on the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).

– Professional development based on individual development plans for educators, providers and programs.

Last year’s EPS course catalog shows the wide range of offerings, “nearly three hundred professional development opportunities” that include “94 college and 189 continuing education courses.”

According to EEC’s Annual Legislative Report for fiscal year 2013, “Grantees are required to provide opportunities and support services to all educators and providers working in the mixed delivery system including educators in family child care, center-based, and school-age programs. Professional development provided through the grant must include opportunities for educators at all levels, developmental coursework through master’s degree level courses.”

From July to December of 2012, more than 2,200 educators completed grant-funded professional development opportunities, including information sessions as well as college and continuing education courses, according to the annual report. Hundreds of other educators and programs developed or updated professional and accreditation goals.

Five lead agencies are coordinating the EPS system in five regions around the state, including the Center for Childcare Careers at the Family Services of Central Massachusetts in Worcester, which was featured in a story on public radio station WAMC.

“We have many people who have experience working with young children, but who may not have formal education,” Joanne Gravell, the center’s director, explained in the news story. “This is going to help them. And it’s going to help the children in their care.” She called it a great investment in the future of the state.

The lead agencies will work with partners to “design and deliver a system of professional development opportunities which support quality enhancements that lead to improved outcomes for children,” the press release explains. Those partners include early intervention and Head Start programs, Coordinated Family and Community Engagement networks, public schools, and Child Care Resource and Referral agencies.

As Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) explains, “These grants provide educator supports, including professional development and accreditation opportunities, which ensure a strong early educator workforce.” Peisch is the House chair of the Joint Committee on Education. She adds, “A strong workforce forms the foundation for quality programs that support the learning of the commonwealth’s youngest children. I applaud the Administration for its dedication to securing a high-quality early education for all children.”