Partnerships lead to more, better early childhood education in Detroit

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” That’s how one early education advocate explains the incredible growth of Children of the Rising Sun (CRS), a long-standing and highly-rated early education provider on Detroit’s west side. In 2018, CRS went from being a home-based provider serving about a dozen kids to a center provider licensed to serve 54 market-rate slots, as well as 18 wrap-around service slots. CRS’s new location features best practice design for early education spaces and is co-located with a Head Start and Great Start Readiness Program provider.

Owner and operator Zina Davis had been formulating her expansion plans since 2014. She has leveraged her experiences and networks with the Brightmoor Quality Initiative (BQI) – a local effort to raise quality at early education centers – to flesh out her vision, create her budget, and identify funders and partners.

“I wanted to expand, but I wanted to maintain a small, intimate, home-like space that fit my vision,” Davis said. Since CRS offers market-rate care, Davis has flexibility to create her own programming, and she didn’t want that to change. “I don’t want a standard curriculum; I want to pull what I like from Waldorf and Reggio and my own ideas about creating a warm, calm, soothing environment for kids.”

One of the BQI partners that Davis established a strong relationship with was Development Centers, a nonprofit early childhood education provider managing 140 Head Start and Great Start Readiness Program slots in the area. Development Centers was looking for a new facility as well as a new partner to provide wrap-around services for their families.

“The stars were starting to align for a strong new partnership,” said Camarrah Morgan of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, which funds BQI. “These two providers really got to know each other through the BQI. They knew their goals were compatible; they knew they weren’t going to be in competition with each other. One provides Head Start and GSRP, while the other provides market-rate care. One provides wrap-around services; the other is not providing those services. One wanted a nicer building, and one needed much more space to expand.”

Morgan added: “It’s so important that when this opportunity became available, Zina was ready for it. She was ready because she had been putting herself out there looking for partners, and because she had been working on her business plan and putting things together and saving money. Development Centers knew her, they knew she was looking to expand, and they knew she was a five-star provider.”

When Development Centers identified a possible new location – a closed charter school known as the Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse (also known as the Northrop Building) – the Fisher Foundation wanted to help them acquire the right building for their needs, but they knew they couldn’t do it alone.

“The Fisher Foundation really was a cheerleader and champion for Development Centers and CRS to come together in this facility. They rallied the foundation community together to bring a lot of resources to bear,” said Monica Duncan, IFF’s Director of Early Childhood Services.

Those resources came from four major institutions in Detroit: The Skillman Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Fisher Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The Skillman Foundation funded IFF’s staff time to conduct a facility assessment on the former charter school building – essentially, a report on the condition of the building and the cost to conduct any needed repairs.

Then, IFF’s Kresge-funded Learning Spaces program provided a $200,000 grant to Development Centers to help purchase the building. Children of the Rising Sun also received $120,000 in Learning Spaces grants to make renovations and buy equipment.

The Fisher Foundation provided CRS with a $30,000 grant for additional classroom upgrades. CRS also received financing from the $2 million BizLoan Fund created by the Fisher Foundation and the Catalyst Fund to assist small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

Finally, IFF provided Kellogg-funded technical assistance to CRS as they began their lease negotiation and buildout process. IFF created a scope of work and basic sketches for the classroom design; solicited bids from several contractors and advised Davis on General Contractor selection; submitted architectural drawings to the State of Michigan; and helped her prepare for her licensing inspections.

“Zina spent several years thinking through what it would take to transition from being a home-based provider to a center provider, and that was time well spent,” Duncan said. “You can’t just take an early learning program and move it right into a space designed for K-8 learning. It was important that CRS took the time it needed to design the space in a way that met Zina’s long-term vision for her business.”

At the new 29,000-square-foot center, fully operational this month, is located in the Old Redford neighborhood just outside of Brightmoor. There, Development Centers is maintaining its 140 Head Start/GSRP slots, and Children of the Rising Sun is increasing its market-rate slots from 12 to 54. CRS will also provide 18 new slots for wrap-around services.

“The investment in the Brightmoor Quality Initiative was about improving quality and outcomes for children by investing in the leaders who do that hard work every day. We’re so very pleased for this opportunity for both of these partners to grow,” the Fisher Foundation’s Morgan said. “It’s important to note that these two partners worked together for several years before their relationship evolved into a formal partnership to develop this co-located child care program. That’s why programs like the Brightmoor Quality Initiative and others in the city that bring together early childhood education providers and resources are so important.”

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