The Center for Effective School Practices (CESP) has received a multi-year award from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJ DOE) to establish the New Jersey Early Learning Training Academy (NJ-ELTA). As the lead funding agency, the NJ DOE is joined by an interdepartmental consortium that includes Children and Families, Human Services, and Health, and is supported by the state’s Council for Young Children. Dr. Cynthia L. Blitz, CESP’s Executive Director and Research Professor in the Graduate School of Education, will serve as Principal Investigator and Project Director for NJ-ELTA.
NJ-ELTA represents a critical piece of New Jersey’s agenda to “dramatically improve access to high-quality early learning and development programs for thousands of low-income, high-needs infants and young children throughout the state” (RTTT-ELC Higher Education Application, April, 2014, p. 3). The initiative, which is the centerpiece of the state’s plan for early education and care, has been enabled by federal funding for New Jersey’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, which runs through December, 2017. A major focus for NJ-ELTA and the other initiatives within the plan is the integration of supports for young children and their families.
NJ-ELTA will establish a statewide training academy with regional satellite venues. Anita Kumar and Linda Carter from Passaic County Community College (PCCC) serve as co-Leads for the North and Lisa Stein from Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC) serves as co-Lead for the South. The goal of the program is to coordinate and align the preparation of early childhood education professionals, including the delivery of high-quality professional development, and to facilitate the implementation of the highest standards for the education and care of children from birth to age 8 throughout the state. Initially, NJ-ELTA will deliver services through a train-the-trainer model. In this model, NJ-ELTA staff will support designated Quality Improvement Specialists who assist the centers and schools that have volunteered to participate in Grow NJ Kids, the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. The ratings are designed to help families make decisions on early care and education settings for their infants and young children. Over the term of the MOU, NJ-ELTA will expand its outreach to become the lead provider and authoritative clearinghouse for all state-sponsored training in early childhood.
According to CESP’s Executive Director, Dr. Blitz, “developing NJ-ELTA is a logical next step for CESP given the center’s expertise and experience with building the capacity of districts and schools to plan, implement, and evaluate high-quality instruction.” CESP is an integral partner in the Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic, sponsored by the United States Department of Education to help Mid-Atlantic stakeholders access and use high-quality research so that they are armed with the evidence they need to make decisions about educational policy and practice. Dr. Blitz, who leads the research alliances for the Regional Educational Laboratory, including the Early Childhood Education Research Alliance, observes that “this work is mission-critical because it not only offers service in the form of high-quality training and tools to educators and caregivers, but also provides opportunities for developing new knowledge about effective professional development practices in this historically underserved sector.”
Dr. Blitz has recruited Kathleen Dunn Priestley, a former early childhood teacher, coordinator of professional development, early education and program development specialist, and administrator at the local and state levels, as NJ-ELTA’s statewide Lead. Together with their partners from PCCC and ACCC, they have identified a talented staff to fill key project roles. The cadre of experts and technical assistance providers will collaborate with a staff of coordinators, trainers, and consultants. NJ-ELTA will be house at CESP with two satellite locations at PCCC and ACCC. Trainings and outreach will be coordinated across the regions, taking the special needs and strengths of each region into account.
“The education continuum starts where NJ-ELTA starts, with the very youngest children,” Dr. Blitz adds. “Good outcomes for all children depend on implementation of best practice in all settings. Research confirms that implementation of best practice depends on the kinds of high-quality professional learning and support for practitioners that NJ-ELTA will provide. We’re thrilled to have NJ-ELTA contribute to this mission.”