Getting to know the Institute Staff: Meet Louisa


New York Works for Children is New York’s integrated professional development system for the early childhood and school age workforce. In 2010, New York Works for Children was founded by the Early Childhood Advisory Council’s Workforce Development Workgroup to support early childhood and school age professionals. The New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute coordinates New York Works for Children and manages the day to day operations. With funding and support from multiple city and state agencies, New York Works for Children is committed to building the infrastructure so that everyone who works with young children and families has access to high quality education and professional development experiences. New York Works for Children is also the home of The Aspire Registry: New York's Registry for Early Childhood Professionals. Louisa Higgins is the Director of New York Works for Children. We asked Louisa to share some of her reflections about her work with us.

What is your current role? In your own words, how would you describe the work you do?

I’m the Director of New York Works for Children, the state’s early childhood workforce development system. I get to work with stakeholders from across the state to help build the infrastructure so that all early childhood providers have access to high quality preparation, professional development, and support. 

Who do you work most closely with at the Institute? What outside partners/organizations do you work with?

I am lucky to work with almost every other initiative at the Institute. A big part of the work we do is the administration of The Aspire Registry, our state’s early childhood workforce registry. Our registry is open to anyone who works with young children in New York and includes family child care providers, teachers, center directors, and trainers and coaches. Many of our colleagues at the Institute are members of The Aspire Registry and use resources like our statewide training calendar! We work with QUALITYstarsNY to track qualifications and professional development for staff in participating programs. Our colleagues at the Career Development Services Center provide career supports to some members of The Aspire Registry, such as keeping track of study plans. Additionally, information about New York Works for Children and The Aspire Registry has been integrated into the curriculum of the CDA and CPAC courses offered in partnership with the CUNY School of Professional Studies.

Outside of the Institute, we partner with anyone who is interested in improving education opportunities for early childhood providers. We are lucky to have funding and support from a variety of state and city agencies. We also work closely with the New York State Association for the Education of Young Children, the New York State Early Childhood Advisory Council, and various workgroups of the Early Childhood Advisory Council.

What motivated you to work in the early childhood field?

From an early age, I knew I wanted to work with and on behalf of young children. I entered the early childhood field wanting to do social justice work. The early years have such a significant impact on life outcomes, and I believe that the work we do at the Institute is really about giving more children positive experiences in their childhood and ultimately, better opportunities in life.  This is what brings me joy in my work. The awareness that we are building systems and creating infrastructure so that more children have exactly what they deserve- especially those that have the most stacked up against them. 

If you could learn a new skill today, what would it be?

There are so many things on my “to learn” list, a wide range of skills from infant massage to interior design. If I had to pick one today, I would chose metal soldering! I used to make jewelry as a hobby, and I never learned to solder. I have a feeling melting metal with a blowtorch is pretty satisfying. 

If you had one piece of advice for a new early childhood teacher, what would it be?

I often think about what I would say to my 24 year old self in my first year of teaching Head Start. I’d start with, “You’re doing a fantastic job.” That is probably the first thing I would say to any new teacher. It’s something I think teachers of young children don’t hear nearly as often as they should, and I also believe it is true. If you are committed to your work and you are respectful of children and their families, you are likely doing a great job. I’d also make sure every early childhood professional in New York- new or veteran!- had a copy of the Core Body of Knowledge. It is a tremendous resource for anyone who wants to reflect on his/her practice and start to think about opportunities to grow in his/her craft.

To learn more about New York Works for Children, please visit or email

Stabilizing New York City’s Child Care Services

The Institute is pleased to welcome a guest contributor, Nilesh Patel, the Director of Labor Relations and Mediation Service for the Day Care Council of New York to share some important news about stabilizing New York City's child care services.

The Day Care Council of New York (DCCNY) was created in 1949 by child care advocates as the membership organization for nonprofit agencies under contract with the City of New York to provide child care services. Over the past 68 years, DCCNY has maintained its role as an advocate, program supporter, and most importantly, the management representative in labor and pension negotiations.

In August 2015, the NYC Office of Labor Relations (OLR) convened meetings with DCCNY and District Council 1707, Local 205, (DC 1707) to discuss new salaries and benefits for child care workers in Early Learn programs. These workers had gone without a salary increase for ten years and both DCCNY (representing over 100 child care providers operating 300 child care programs) and DC 1707 (the union representing over 3,000 workers) highlighted the difficulties in maintaining a quality early childhood educational system without adequate support and funding.

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The Hechinger Report Early Childhood Series

capturehechingerAlthough voters have voiced their strong support for access to quality early childhood care and education, the United States continues to fall behind other nations when it comes to investing in young children. In fact, according to a 2012 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. ranked 35th in school enrollment of 3- to 5-year-olds among developed nations. The Little to Nothing Series, a series of six articles by Lillian Mongeau featured in the The Hechinger Report, explores the current state of public preschool in the U.S., including areas for improvement on a national level and strong examples of quality pre-K at the city and state level. A prevalent theme across the articles is the importance of building and supporting a well-trained early childhood workforce in order to best serve young children and their families. This theme is particularly evident in the fourth article of the series, What do Preschool Teachers Need to Do a Better Job?, which details New York City’s achievements and challenges faced during the implementation of universal pre-K. Mongeau argues that New York City’s universal pre-K efforts are a model for the whole nation due to its diversity and scale.

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Gender, Sexuality, and Family in Early Childhood Education

workshop-gsf-noctaGender and sexuality are often considered topics exclusively for adults, or at least for teens or pre-teens. But early childhood classrooms are rife with questions, interactions, and play that address and present opportunities to explore children’s and families’ ideas about bodies, identities, and relationships.

In the dramatic play corner: “You can’t play. You’re a boy and we’re playing princesses.”

In the bathroom: “I have a wee-wee. Why doesn’t she have anything there?”

In circle time: “You have to have a daddy. Everybody has a daddy.”

During pick-up: “Go hug your teacher goodbye.” “I don’t want to.”

During nap-time: “But it feels nice!” (says a masturbating child to an alarmed new teacher)

While often undiscussed by grown-ups, children are busy exploring their bodies: touching themselves during nap-time, watching other children use the bathroom, playing “doctor” during dramatic play. Young children are also engaging with, contesting, and internalizing gender stereotypes. Colors, toys, play, and families are all terrains on which gender lines are drawn and redrawn. Who can play what role, play with what toy, wear what item of clothing, or be a family are frequent topics for debate, and pose situations in which early childhood classrooms can become spaces where gender norms are further entrenched or, alternatively, where children develop a more expansive conception of identity.

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The Aspire Registry August Newsletter


The Aspire Registry team has released their August newsletter. For more than a year now, the Aspire Registry Newsletter has discussed the latest Registry news and events, and highlighted the work of New York professionals in the field of early childhood. The newsletter also provides information about useful resources and tips for early childhood professionals. Each month, the newsletter is distributed to over 24,000 Aspire Registry members, a number that continues to grow.

In this month’s newsletter, Aspire Registry member Marilyn A. Ballard shares her experiences on her early childhood career pathway. The Aspire Registry team also discusses their second annual focus group, which provided the team with great insight into the application process, website, and much more. Lastly, the newsletter features a spotlight on Diana Diaz, the Aspire Registry’s Administrator.

To read the newsletter, click here

Getting to know the Institute Staff: Meet Ariel

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Ariel Davis is the Director of QUALITYstarsNY, New York’s quality rating and improvement system. Her work focuses on helping early childhood programs across the state of New York to identify areas of improvement and supporting them to meet their quality improvement goals. We asked Ariel to share some of her reflections about her work with us.

What is your current role? In your own words, how would you describe the work you do?

QUALITYstarsNY is New York's Quality Rating and Improvement System that supports programs serving young children to build and sustain quality. A program participating in QUALITYstarsNY is evaluated or "rated" based on how it measures up to QUALITYstarsNY Program Standards, a robust set of research-based indicators known to affect child outcomes. Working in collaboration with the program, QUALITYstarsNY then uses that evaluation data to build a plan to address specific areas for growth. Finally, and in an ongoing way, QUALITYstarsNY provides coaching and resources to help programs implement their plans—from purchasing books for the classroom to providing scholarships for staff to earn degrees or credit(s) in areas that will help improve their quality. 

As Director of QUALITYstarsNY, I oversee and coordinate many aspects of the day-to-day implementation work while also planning for the future expansion of the system. The work itself varies daily, but certain constants include: establishing and maintaining relationships with community partners, initiating and managing work with subcontractors, and using data to evaluate and continuously improve internal and external strategies.

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Early Learning Challenge States Demonstrate Increase in Program Quality Ratings and Enrollment

In 2011, Congress called for proposals for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Grant. The purpose of the RTT-ELC Grant was to improve the quality of early learning programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, as well as increase the number of low-income and disadvantaged children enrolled in these programs. Four years later, the results of the $1 billion federal investment are in and have demonstrated positive impacts on children and families living in Early Learning Challenge states. During visits to two Early Learning Challenge states, Secretary John King shared that states that leveraged the RTT-ELC Grant opportunity doubled the number of highly rated programs in their states. This means that more children are receiving high quality early childhood education and care than ever before.

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QUALITYstarsNY Program Holds Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for New Playground

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The Schenectady Early Childhood Education Center, a QUALITYstarsNY program, held a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate a year of successful renovations intended to better meet the needs of their children and community. Since moving to Schenectady in 2015, the program has worked hand-in-hand with the community to find grants and resources to build a suitable playground for the children to enjoy. The new renovation ensure that all children in the community, including those with walkers and wheelchairs, are now able safely play and explore thanks to a new Poured-in-Place Playground Surface and fence around the perimeter.

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New York City’s Early Childhood Mental Health Network

The mental health of New York’s youngest children is of the upmost importance to ensure that they have the ability to thrive and grow in their homes, child care centers, and classrooms and develop into successful adults. In response to the needs of the city’s youngest children and their families, First Lady Chirlane McCray has announced the creation of the Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) Network, which will provide mental health services to children under six years of age and support families with children with mental health needs. The ECMH network, operated by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was developed to work in conjunction with the Administration for Children's Services' and Department of Education’s new social-emotional learning supports, which will be available to children in EarlyLearn and Pre-K for All sites. The implementation of the ECMH Network will be the most comprehensive mental health plan in the country, and demonstrates New York City’s innovative approach to meeting the needs of the city’s children. Most importantly, this unprecedented work marks the City’s commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of children and families.

The New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute supports the City’s efforts to provide information, professional development, and resources to the early childhood teachers and leaders who work with families every day. Research has consistently demonstrated that social-emotional skills are critical for children to navigate the world inside the classroom and beyond. These skills also build the foundation for children’s mental health well into adulthood. Through implementing the ECMH Network, New York City has made a strong investment in the City’s children and its future.  

NYT Letter to the Editor on Accessible Child Care

To the Editor:

The Wages of Child Care” (Business Day, July 13) illuminates the problem: low wages driven by the fact that the burden to pay these wages rests on young families, early in their earning capacity, and grossly inadequate public subsidy rates.

The United States needs to make a social policy change by allocating public resources to support infrastructure to ensure high-quality child care, with well-trained and well-educated teachers earning adequate compensation (both wages and benefits).

Other countries demonstrate their commitment to young families by generously subsidizing the cost of child care, enabling them to be more productive in the workplace while making sure that their children have opportunities to thrive and start school without the prevailing achievement gap, because they’ve had highly effective early childhood educators who earn professional wages.

Recent polls in the United States indicate that high-quality early childhood education for children from birth to 5 is a bipartisan priority among voters. It is time to pass legislation that includes funding that will significantly elevate compensation of those entrusted with this important responsibility.


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     Executive Director