A Question of Care: Read the investigative series on the state’s child-care system and search a database of inspection reports. Click here to read Part 1 of state inspection reports from Tulsa County’s top rated child-care centers.
Free time grows into a peaceful rhythm in the classroom with 4- and 5-year-olds at Good Shepherd Early Childhood Education Center, 8730 E. Skelly Drive.
Three children work on puzzles, two girls make a bead necklace, some boys stack blocks and a visiting grandmother shares a banana in the snack area.
"We are not child care, we are educators," said teacher Dona Baldridge. "We are preparing our children for life."
A Head Start program administered by the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, Good Shepherd Early Childhood Education Center is one of three, three-star centers receiving no violations or complaints since January 2007, according to a Tulsa World analysis of state inspection and complaint reports.
The other two are Happy Hearts Academy, 1010 N. Yale Ave., and the Bethany Community School, 6730 S. Sheridan Road, which is a part-day children's program.
Four other Tulsa County three-star centers had fewer than two violations for minor infractions and no confirmed complaints — Tulsa Community College Child Development Center, 7505 W. 41st St., Crosstown Learning Center, 2501 E. Archer St., Children's Learning Lab at Tulsa Tech northeast campus, 3850 N. Peoria Ave., and Trinity Episcopal Day School, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave.
The Community Action Project, which administers the federal Head Start grant, has 20 sites with early childhood programs serving about 2,000 children. The Good Shepherd program educates about 74 children.
Eight of the nonprofit's Head Start programs, including Good Shepherd, are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Those with national accreditation have fewer than 20 total compliance violations and three confirmed complaints, which resulted in two firings and a change in how teachers supervise a playground.
The substantiated complaints included a staff member grabbing the arm of a child in May 2007 at the Disney Early Childhood Education Center, a staff member yelling and grabbing a child's arm in October 2007 at the Disney site and a child injured on a playground during an aftercare program in March 2008 at the Reed Early Childhood Education Center.
The sites have developed procedures to quickly make needed repairs, provide ongoing teacher training and hold regular site director meetings.
It is unusual for a center to be free of any compliance violations because of the details involved in the inspections. Good Shepherd staff say everyone is aware of the state and national accreditation expectations.
"Health and safety is everyone's job," said Cindee Bergren, accreditation and curriculum specialist for the community action project. "If a toy is in the middle of the gym, someone is going to move it to the edge. You fix it. It's everyone's environment."
Early childhood educators say parents need to be aware of the curriculum being offered as well as basic health and safety requirements. National accreditation groups tend to focus on lesson plans and effective teaching methods.
Bergren said it chooses to follow the National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation because of a "holistic approach."
"It's a top-down organizational philosophy," Bergren said. "If you take care of your accreditation standards, you will not have problems with DHS."
The Head Start programs have a family support component, which includes a parent policy council.
"I think we don't have any complaints because we work so closely with parents," Baldridge said. "They know we are here for their children. We hear them and welcome them."
Parents are encouraged to visit the child-care programs before enrolling children and check out the DHS inspection reports.
"What does it feel like in the classroom?" said Pam Summers, site director of the Good Shepherd and Reed early childhood programs for the Community Action Project.
"Does it feel safe and happy? Then, look at the interaction between child and staff. Social and emotional relationships are critical for children."
This is the second part of a two-day examination of state inspection reports of Tulsa County’s top-rated child-care centers.
The Tulsa World found that among the 37 three-star centers, about 400 inspection violations were found and 23 confirmed complaints.
Of the inspection violations, about 19 percent were found on playgrounds, 12 percent for building maintenance problems, 7 percent for understaffed or overcrowded rooms, 7 percent for improper sleeping arrangements and 6 percent for out-of-date fire inspections or tornado drills.
The confirmed complaints include hitting children with a ruler, treating head lice with hairspray without parental permission, yelling at children, running a red light while transporting children and having nearly 50 children on a playground with one staff member.
Child-care inspection and complaint reports, which include details of findings, are available to the public by calling the county DHS offices. In Tulsa County, call 933-4500 to make an appointment to view the files. For an overview of the number of violations and complaints, go to the DHS Child Care Locator at www.tulsaworld.com/dhs.
Ginnie Graham 581-8376
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