Arms of the King Childcare in Newport News has grown out of a love for children over the past 20 years. When Coretta Rodriquez founded In Coretta's Care (which was eventually consolidated with her second center, Arms of the King), she didn’t anticipate just how important her business would become to her community and staff.
Rodriquez said she’s fortunate to have two staff members who’ve been with her since the beginning—and several more with 5-10 years. Then there’s Audrey Livingstone, who has joined right after college as a preschool “wee” teacher, before advancing to supervisor and now director.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Livingstone told us.
Even though Arms of the King has been more successful with employee retention than most centers, staffing remains one of its biggest hurdles. While lead teachers stick around, assistants have a high turnover rate, with positions often filled during summer months by students. The decrease in available workers once the pandemic hit was an added sting. Arms of the King normally serves 70-80 children, with a licensing capacity for 92. At the height of COVID, the center stayed open with 30 children.
There are many unknowns beyond the pandemic, such how guidelines and minimum wage will be affected by the state’s child care quality rating system, Virginia Quality, moving from the Department of Social Services to the Department of Education.
Despite staffing challenges and other daily stresses, Livingstone still finds joy in her work. She said she’s adapting how she deals with the many business hats she must wear each day. Her greatest stress relief, though, has come from joining HRSSA. Managing paperwork and processes was a daily headache, and the center’s “old school” time cards were especially cumbersome.
But now that HRSSA has implemented technology to automate these processes, Livingstone reports she only needs a few minutes each day to electronically manage employee time. What’s more,HRSSA provides her with detailed reports on clock-ins, breaks and more. While employees were initially wary of the changes, they soon realized the benefits of this technology and acclimated.HRSSA staff made equally helpful improvements to other systems and processes at Arms of the King.
“The greatest advantage is the knowledgeable professionals with HRSSA who know how processes and policies should be implemented and trained for, while also making themselves always available to us,” explained Livingstone. “The results from our new processing for parent payments through the app is just one example. Many of the children’s parents and guardians are older and unfamiliar with how to use technology. HRSSA’s director of operations, Virginia Marsh, spent 12 hours one day on site teaching each parent how to log in and use the app.”
Like other directors in HRSSA, Livingstone has access to training sessions and our eight-week Directors Leadership Academy, which she said were extremely helpful. She also said HRSSA’s improvements leave her time to focus on staff certification and quality education. Even two or three extra hours a week make a big difference in working toward the center’s Virginia Quality Level 3certification. She recently attended a training through HRSSA partner Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula to learn how to develop more effective lesson plans. And she said she’s eager to implement a new Teacher Work Week at the end of summer.
Livingstone said will also continue coming up with innovative ways to engage staff, and stepping up employee benefits. For example, Arms of the King gives their staff “Day Care Bucks” to purchase items for their classrooms.
Making quality early education a sustainable industry requires a strong business model. That’s what HRSSA is all about—helping child care centers and home daycares succeed, so the children they serve can succeed too.