As assistant director of the Wayne County (Michigan) Head Start program, Anne Bruetsch oversees 500 classroom educators, social workers, health personnel, and aides. A new resource from EDC, called Strengthening Operations for Learning and Results (SOLAR), enables her to more effectively identify the development needs of her program staff, as well as create a plan to meet those needs.
“SOLAR helped to create dialogue on what to focus on as an agency, and specifically how to use our training dollars,” says Bruetsch, whose Head Start program serves over 3,500 low-income children and their families in the Detroit area.
SOLAR, which is available to all Head Start programs across the country, is composed of two tools: the Profiler and the Planner. The Profiler is a Web-based database that is used to document employees’ development of the skills required for their positions. Management teams use the Planner to develop training/technical assistance plans for their staff development needs.
Head Start managers use the tools to focus on general staff performance areas, as well as program-wide issues, such as cultural competence, planning, communication, and developing community partnerships. Both tools are based on nationally recognized guidelines for best practice and make use of over 300 job-specific skill indicators developed by EDC.
“This is a first-of-its-kind system that helps Head Start programs assess staff skill levels and develop professional development plans that correspond to those skill levels,” says EDC’s Patricia Fahey, project director of SOLAR.
After pilot-testing the tools in California, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Michigan, EDC trained Head Start managers across the country to implement SOLAR, and many Head Start programs have begun to see promising results. Although the Office of Head Start does not require its programs to use SOLAR, it strongly recommends they do.
The information gathered with the Profiler gives both national and regional Head Start offices a more detailed picture of the skills and needs of the programs they oversee. “The Profiler provides different ways of looking at the data,” says Ann Schlesinger, also of EDC. “For instance, programs can use SOLAR reports to compare skill level of staff in different locations, or according to educational level or longevity in their position.”
The Planner helps program managers create training and technical assistance (staff development) plans, which they are required to do each year by the Head Start Act. “The Planner allows programs to analyze the data on their staff’s skills, come up with a plan, and then track the status of completing the plan,” says Fahey. “It encourages programs to look beyond one-time workshops or training events and instead guides programs to design solutions that include a combination of strategies such as study groups, course work, and guided supervision.”
SOLAR was developed in partnership with Plexus Scientific, with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Originally published on April 17, 2009