Winter 2006 Newsletter

LAUP/NSBN Collaborate to Bring Pre-K to 'Hot Zones'

Gary MangioficoWhen created in 2004, the goal of the Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) Initiative was to make high-quality, voluntary preschool accessible to every 4-year-old in Los Angeles County by 2014. NSBN was asked in 2005 by First 5 LA to assist LAUP with the development of new models for community- and school-based childcare centers in the areas of greatest need. NSBN’s collaborative and joint-use models are being applied to the creation of new preschool seats through a memorandum of agreement with LAUP and funding from  First 5 LA. Gary Mangiofico, PhD, is LAUP’s Chief Operations Officer.

As chief operations officer for LAUP you have the challenge of making high-quality voluntary preschool accessible to every 4-year-old in L.A. County regardless of the family’s income by  2014.  Today, only half of L.A. County’s 4-year-olds have access to any preschool at all.  How is LAUP approaching filling the demand for access and equity throughout the county?

LAUP has established three primary organizational units to tackle meeting L.A. County’s sizeable need for pre-K for all 4-year-olds: a planning group, a development group, and an operations group. 

The planning group is heavily involved in looking at community assessment, needs assessment. Additionally, they are evaluating LAUP’s programs and researching other programs and services that we might incorporate into our programs. LAUP’s board is committed to incorporating this research into facilities development. They have identified special initiatives to create a quality standard of practice in new pre-K centers, and our planning group is developing demonstration projects incorporating these initiatives.  For example, one of those looks at program development in the area of special needs children at the pre-K level. Another is a child and family literacy project with an ELL [English Language Learners] component that we’re creating in collaboration with libraries and one of the national library associations. Given the population of Los Angeles County, we feel that diversity needs to be respected and honored, so we want all of our work to be anchored in linguistic and cultural competency.

The development of new pre-K seats is the second organizational piece of our efforts.  It is the area where we probably integrate the most with New Schools Better Neighborhoods, and we have subdivided this task into three categories.  One is the area of capacity-creation – looking at macro planning, macro demographics, macro urban assessments about needs and services and the sheer volume of children that we want to account for by 2014.  It requires some pretty intricate planning. 
The second area is the actual facilities creation.  We’re looking at projects from the very simple, such as additional classrooms, to very significant projects that might involve construction and/or rehabilitation of buildings.  We also have our “jump-start” group, which is working with providers as we develop their facilities to be sure that they are in fact ready to be appraised in our five-star rating system before we take them into our actual assessment phase.

Our third large group is our operations group.  That group is subdivided into two areas.  One is the actual operations group itself, which is our quality and operations management group.  They work with our providers and do the assessments, in terms of our five-star ratings, assign that star rating, and then work on an ongoing basis with those providers who achieve a rating of three or better to continue to enhance quality and develop their programs and staff. 

In addition, we have a special services group, which has basically all the program content specialists.  They work with our staff both internally and in the field as well as with experts to establish the standards and best practices that we programmatically want to see in an LAUP program.  This could be in the area of English-language learners, health and welfare, family engagement, special needs, and various curriculum content areas as well as child outcome assessments. 

Research clearly shows that the children who attend quality preschool programs are more likely to succeed in school and beyond than those who do not.  But, as LAUP  notes, only half the 4-year-olds in L.A. County currently have access to such programs.   Please elaborate on LAUP’s plans and efforts to develop new pre-K seats and on the partnerships, both public and private, you are forming  to meet the needs of families and children in Los Angeles.  What do you look for in these partnerships?  What does LAUP want to create over the next ten years that requires such partnerships? 

We have several goals for these partnerships.  One, as you pointed out, is that it’s a very large county, and it’s a very ambitious goal to create the opportunity for all four-year-olds to be able to voluntarily attend pre-K.  At a macro level, we’re looking at how to create synergy and coherence in the county for creating a blueprint and a map of actual facilities creation.  Where should they be?  Under what circumstances?  With what providers?  With what partners to actually run those centers?  We’re a mixed-governance model, and we want to offer parental choice, and that requires a variety of settings and programs.

Certainly other people are working in this area, such as NSBN, which is modeling community and civic collaboration and joint use,  and/or other entities that control access such as LAUSD and their building program. We expect that through collaboration with our partners that we will be able to create a more integrated plan for pre-K facilities creation in Los Angeles County.
Another critical piece is leveraging expertise.  When an organization such as NSBN, who has its own core competencies, comes along, then I think it’s not only to the advantage of the county and providers to use that expertise, but it also lets us leverage our dollars.  So it allows us to be more fiscally prudent.  Rather than re-create or be redundant in development of certain capabilities and expertise, it becomes both more cost-effective and, at the risk of speaking too abstractly, a better return of expertise that you get on your investment rather than having to create yet another entity with that expertise. 

Let’s focus on the communities within L.A. County that LAUP has identified as in greatest need of additional pre-school seats.  What are LAUP’s criteria for identifying those communities and neighborhoods? 

We assessed needs through the master planning process.  Originally the master plan referred to the areas of greatest need as “hot zones.”  We have since taken that data and expanded it into four tiers that describe service rates and the need for the development of additional services.  We are concentrating our focus on Tier I and Tier II at this time.  Those represent approximately 34 zip codes throughout the county.  A Tier I zone is where the need is greater than 1,000 children who are not being serviced and the service rate is less than 50 percent.  A Tier II would be where the service rate is less than 50 percent but where the need is between 500 and 1,000 children.  We don’t want to do it just on a pure percentage basis because percentage doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual number of children who aren’t being served in a given area.  We’re trying to go into areas that have the actual largest raw need as well as the lowest service rates.  Interestingly, we have seen that boosting API scores is highly correlated to providing services in those areas. 

Are there model partnerships that offer guidance on how to cost effectively modernize or build new preschools seats? Clearly, LAUP’s partnership with NSBN and LAUSD offers promise, but what do you hope to learn from such efforts?

We are looking at a couple of different models.  I think joint use, which NSBN has expertise with, provides an opportunity to leverage square footage.  It lets us participate with other entities who may be developing a facility where there’s need for a quality preschool in that area but where that need in and of itself does not warrant a sole-use building.  We’re working ourselves and with our partners with individual municipalities and communities, meeting with both elected as well as community leaders and childcare professionals on the ground to help us understand.

Through a greater understanding of what actually transpires in the community, we can make our best decision as to how to support joint use projects.  One has emerged in relation to schools, one in relation to a community center; a couple in relation to nonprofits that have other buildings on their campuses that could incorporate development.  And then we’re also looking for the structures that can accommodate classrooms and create healthy environments for children. 

Since this interview will be read by a number of these organizations and public officials,  elaborate on LAUP’s capacity to create incentives for other stakeholders and providers to form joint use pre-K partnerships? 

That occurs at two levels.  One is the actual facilities development monies in and of themselves.  We have elected to target and accelerate development in the areas of greatest need first, the Tier I and II zones.  Our board chose last year to allocate a substantial portion of our operating budget to that development.  Organizations that are looking at creating facilities can apply with us under a variety of auspices for obtaining funds to help construction and development of a building, perhaps retrofit it to get that building to the point where it can get a certificate of occupancy.  We probably wouldn’t be inclined or able to fund an entire joint use or raw construction project, but we can certainly go into things such as matching grants and/or pooling of funds.  If an entity has funds to build, for instance, a large community center but didn’t have money that could be specifically dedicated to a preschool, we would be able to work with them to build out the portion of that structure that would be devoted to preschool.

The second is in the area of operating.  LAUP will not actually operate schools but rather serve as a shared-services and support entity to providers.  But under the auspices of that, we can facilitate the expansion of existing providers, bring existing providers into areas, and/or get providers into the business of operating preschools and fund those operations.  In addition, we have a workforce development initiative that recognizes that when we build these facilities, someone has to come in and actually teach. 

Furthermore, I think that entities who look at this, particularly municipalities and others who are interested in economic development, see perhaps secondary or tertiary gain to their economic planning by the fact that

employers would be looking at cities who have demonstrated a commitment to providing preschool services and have the resources to make it happen. 

What are you learning about how easy or difficult it is to develop these partnerships/collaborative relationships?  Are there examples emerging that LAUP could share today?

We’ve actually found it very easy.  There is a consciousness and awareness about the benefits of pre-K at this point.  There’s a general movement that realizes that investing in children is not just a good thing for children but also for the social fabric of a community.  There’s all kinds of research about return on investment, such as the RAND study that was recently released, that address those issues.  We really haven’t encountered any resistance or difficulty in forming relationships.  If anything, our challenge is to respond to all the interest, and we’re working hard at that.  Another reason why leveraging these partnerships becomes significant because entities such as NSBN or LAUSD also have relationships and can help us to further specific plans in a given area.

In terms of the type of projects that come forward, I honestly want to say that we want to reserve judgment on that.  Currently we’re seeing such a wide variety, and projects are so specific to each community.  I know that there are perhaps models from a facilities creation or a macro level, but we want to be able to put services on the ground, and that means assessing each potential project area on its own merit.  We love projects with green space and love projects where we can look at the environmental health and support children; that’s ideal.  But we also recognize that in some areas, land use is limited, and that’s another reason to look at joint use. 

The array of possible preschool providers includes center-based preschools and family childcare providers.  What operators might participate in this LAUP program?

The operators can come from a wide variety of settings.  We are looking for providers from settings such as nonprofits, school districts, faith-based or private providers.  We’re looking for a mixed-governance model so that parents have choice.  We want to be able to provide a range of services. Among the providers who can meet the criteria – licensing and due diligence and our quality assessment ratings – a varied background is something we encourage.  We believe that lets the child development remain in the hands of the parents.