ECECD hosts first-ever strategic planning retreat with New Mexico Head Start Association 

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – On May 13 and 14, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) and the New Mexico Head Start Association convened leadership from Head Start and Early Head Start programs from across the state, both Regional and Tribal Head Start, for a two-day strategy and planning retreat. This summit marks the first time that the State of New Mexico’s early childhood system and federal Head Start recipients have met to plan and strategize how to strengthen collaboration and partnerships and better align programs and services to meet the needs of children and families.

“Like so many other New Mexicans, Head Start has had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life, equipping me with the skills and confidence I needed to thrive in school and beyond,” said New Mexico Lt. Governor Howie Morales. “New Mexico has much to learn from Head Start as we build a world class early childhood system for children and families in our state. We are confident that continued collaboration between our programs will make us both stronger and more effective in furthering our shared vision for New Mexico.”

“This is a historic moment for New Mexico,” said ECECD Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “We were thrilled to be in community with the state’s Tribal and Regional Head Start and Early Head Start programs to dream and plan together on how we can achieve our collective hopes and aspirations for families and children in New Mexico. The theme of our retreat, Leading the Nation, Building the Future TOGETHER!, emphasizes strong federal, state, and local partnerships – the key to a robust, family-centered mixed delivery system.”

“For nearly 60 years, Head Start has supported generations of children from low-income families with programs and services proven to enhance social-emotional development, cognition, and school readiness,” said Crystal Peña, President of the New Mexico Head Start Association. “This summit has cemented cooperation and coordination between the federal, state, and local early childhood systems in New Mexico, laying the groundwork for years of fruitful collaboration moving forward.”

More than 100 leaders representing Head Start recipients from around the state joined ECECD leadership, and local early childhood system building coalition leaders and Early Childhood Tribal Advisory Coalition leaders for two days of discussion and planning, sharing perspectives, exchanging ideas, and providing input that will shape the state’s prenatal-to-five early childhood system. Featured speakers included Khari Garvin, Director of the Office of Head Start, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and New Mexico Lt. Governor Howie Morales, a former educator, Head Start alumnus, and one of the architects of New Mexico’s groundbreaking early childhood system.

Because of the integral role that Head Start plays in the New Mexico early childhood ecosystem, ECECD has prioritized collaboration with Head Start and actively sought out ways the agency can support their important mission. Since ECECD’s founding in 2021, it has:

  • Distributed 88 emergency stabilization grants totaling more than $10 million to support New Mexico Head Start programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Supported competitive compensation and enhanced credentials for Head Start staff through incentive payments, pay parity programs, and scholarships.
  • Integrated NM PreK into existing Head Start programs by funding 1,024 NM PreK slots in 56 Head Start classrooms and providing dual enrollment opportunities for 892 children and blended enrollment for an additional 132 children.
  • Offered New Mexico PreK grants to Tribal Head Start programs, which created capacity for 554 additional children across five Tribal communities. 

New Mexico makes major investment in a redesigned child care quality improvement and rating system

ECECD seeks input from families and key stakeholders on FOCUS redesign

SANTA FE – Today, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) opened a new survey to gather input from New Mexico families, child care centers, family child care homes, and child care teachers regarding a planned multi-year effort to update and redesign FOCUS, the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). The redesign is part of an $18 million investment that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham secured during the 2024 legislative session to improve the quality of early education and care in New Mexico.

“The research is clear: investments in quality early learning environments will improve our state’s educational and health outcomes,” said ECECD Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “That’s why Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made universal access to high-quality early care and education a top priority. We’re calling on families, educators, and providers to help ECECD build a strong quality rating and improvement system that reflects their values. By making their voices heard through the FOCUS redesign survey, they will help inform ECECD’s redesigned child care quality rating and improvement system.”
A QRIS is a system for improving and communicating the level of quality in early childhood education and care settings. New Mexico’s current QRIS, FOCUS, assigns quality ratings to child care providers based on a number of factors, including: 

  • Teacher/child ratios 
  • Professional qualifications and training of staff  
  • Family Engagement
  • Inclusive Practices for Children with Developmental Delays or Disabilities
  • Culture and Language Including the Support of Dual Language Learners
  • Promoting Social Relationships
  • Attention to Children’s Health and Wellness (Including Early Intervention support)
  • Developmental Screening
  • Child Observation and Documentation for Assessment, Curriculum and Planning the Classroom Environment
  • Continuous Quality Improvement 

A QRIS helps strengthen early education and care programs, provides a roadmap for quality improvement, and helps families identify which programs will best meet their needs. Most states revise their QRIS every three to five years. The last revision for New Mexico was in May 2015. 

In fall 2023, ECECD conducted community focus groups to gather input on the FOCUS redesign and is now soliciting additional input using a survey format. The survey will gather input from across the state on the proposed framework for the redesign of FOCUS. ECECD is also engaging with national experts to understand best practices across the country and lessons learned from other states. 
“Tapping the knowledge and experience of the early childhood education and care community is crucial to this redesign process,” said Angela Garcia, owner of the Toy Box Early Learning Centers and President of Full Circle Advocacy Group. “The amazing individuals doing this work can help us create a high-quality early childhood education system that is centered around the unique needs of each community and family.”
To learn more about the ongoing efforts to redesign New Mexico’s QRIS, visit ECECD’s FOCUS redesign website.

LANL increases child care capacity for Los Alamos community through public-private partnership

When most people think about pressing national security concerns facing the United States, child care doesn’t usually come to mind. But for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL),  lack of child care options for their 17,000 employees and its surrounding community has become mission critical.

“Our employees were really struggling with finding child care,” said Kathy Keith, Director of the LANL Community Partnerships Office.

In recent years, LANL undertook a big hiring push. Consequently, more employees than ever are claiming young children as dependents on their insurance, according to LANL. Facing a shortage of child care options, workers were faced with difficult decisions, such as forgoing employment at the Lab or patching together help from relatives.

One such example is Emily Schulze, a project manager, who has two children ages 7 and 5. She and her husband returned to LANL in 2016. When Schulze became pregnant with their first child soon after, the couple knew they would have to be proactive, so they joined a waitlist at a local child care center right away.

“We secured a spot in my third trimester and were paying full price for an unborn child,” said Schulze. In total, the family paid for five months of unused child care, she said. They faced the same scenario with their second child.

When pandemic-era hybrid working came to an end, many workers were in need of expanded or first-time child care options.

Schulze co-chairs the LANL Women’s Employee Resource Group, which, along with the Dependent Caregivers’ Employee Resource Group, was active in pressing LANL to address the child care crisis. The  groups worked to assess the situation facing the LANL community by surveying more than 900 employees.

Realizing the Lab would struggle to recruit and retain the top talent required for its important mission, Triad, the organization that manages and operates LANL, began seeking ways to relieve the child care crunch. They convened a meeting with the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce and local child care providers and found that every child care center in the area carried a waiting list, oftentimes more than a year long. It was clear the market wasn’t going to fix itself.

“Our priority was: how do we create more opportunities for child care while not harming the child care providers that we currently have?” said Keith. “We really needed to find a partner in the community that understood and was experienced in doing child care.”

Triad solicited proposals to find an existing area child care provider that could expand their operations. The University of California, a parent entity of Triad, pledged $2 million towards renovation and supplies for the new facilities. Triad has pledged ongoing financial support for operations of the new facility.

The Bilingual Montessori School (BMS), located in White Rock, was chosen as the operator of the new facility, and real estate developer Columbus Capital supplied a suitable property on Trinity Drive in Los Alamos for the campus.

The new BMS facility in Los Alamos will comprise of four buildings to house aged-based classrooms, which will open as renovations and staffing are completed. The infant building, which opened in March, is fully enrolled. The young toddler building opened its doors on May 1. At full capacity, the new center will serve 150 infants and toddlers.

“I’m very proud that with all of our experience and know-how, we were awarded the job,” said BMS Owner and Director Odalys Gonzalez, who began working in early childhood in White Rock in 1985. “The Lab has cooperated with us, and I feel very comfortable with the partnership we have made.”

Those community partnerships are at the heart of the project’s success.

“Communities are built on small and local businesses,” said Greg Gonzales, Director of Development and Construction at Columbus Capital, which has a long relationship of working with LANL and the local chamber of commerce.

“This isn’t a widget maker or a sandwich shop—these are our kids,” he said. “To have a local community member with a track record, it offers comfort about the service you are going to get.”

In fact, Gonzales spoke from close experience—his own two children, who are now out of high school, attended BMS in White Rock.

The group began renovations in July 2023 and, on March 11, 2024, representatives from LANL, BMS, and the University of California came together to celebrate a ribbon cutting for the first two infant classrooms, with ECECD Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky in attendance.

When BMS opened the doors of its infant facility in Los Alamos on March 18, Louie Chacon and Abrianna Martinez were eager to drop off their 10-month-old son, Louie. The pair live in El Rito and each make the 60-mile commute to work at LANL.

Previously, the couple had relied on their mothers to watch Louie during the workday. However, when Chacon read about BMS, he realized having child care near their workplace could benefit the family. They joined the wait list on the day it opened.

“I go to work at 5 a.m.,” Chacon said. “In the afternoon, I’m able to pick him up right there, just 5 minutes away from work.” Previously, when Chacon drove to Chimayo to pick up Louie from his mom’s house, it added up to an hour to an already long commute.

For the young family, the benefits go alleviating stress around child care.

“We love that he’s not the only kid,” Chacon said. “Here, he’s learning to be sociable from a very young age.”

“He’s happy,” Martinez added. “And for us, that goes a long way.”

While the center will make a significant dent in the local child care deficit, there is still more to do. The waitlist at the new center already includes over 400 children.

Nonetheless, the public-private collaboration in Los Alamos can serve as a blueprint for other communities looking to improve early education access for families.

Similar partnerships have already improved access in Silver City and Santa Fe, and several major employers throughout the state are actively investigating options for boosting child care in their own communities.

“I would encourage others not to do it in a bubble,” Keith reflected. “I think one of the best things we did was reach out to the community child care providers to understand what the needs were. And to understand what business models looked like for them so that we were adding to, not disrupting what was already in the community.”