03/02/08 — Smart Start celebrates 10 years in operation

View Archive

Smart Start celebrates 10 years in operation

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 2, 2008 2:00 AM

Smart Start is 10 years old this year. And like any other 10-year-old, has had some growing pains along the way.

With nurturing and patience, its potential is still being realized, but the future looks very bright, executive director Don Magoon said.

"Smart Start is now a national model to be followed and internationally, when we go to Smart Start conferences there's a lot of interest from folks as well," he said.

The grassroots initiative started in North Carolina in 1993 by then-Governor Jim Hunt. It was introduced in Wayne County in 1998. Magoon came on board in 2002 but remembers those early days.

"Little did I know in 1993, when I went to the governor's office for the kickoff -- I was a business representative for Wayne County and went up there with Jimmie Edmundson and Howard Scott -- little did I know a few years later I would be doing what I'm doing here," he said.

United Way was instrumental in launching the local agency. Individuals and other organizations also helped, Magoon said -- dropping names like Sudie Davis of Communities in Schools and former state Rep. Phil Baddour.

The budget has changed drastically since those days, he noted.

"When I arrived, $2.2 million was entirely funded by Smart Start. I don't think we had any private grants at all," he said. "In 2002, there were three classes of More at Four. Today we have 35, serving 630 children."

The budget now tops $5.3 million, with other funding sources assisting -- including fundraisers, grants and private donations, as well as federal dollars.

Smart Start continues to expand its range of services, responding to the community it serves, Magoon said. Scholarships are provided for early childhood education students to ensure child care providers have the best possible education.

And programs are regularly being added for families, particularly parents.

"We do a tremendous amount of training for parents and providers," Magoon said, CPR and first aid, as well as parenting classes, to name a few. Its latest is an education program for parents with children exhibiting challenging behaviors.

Much progress has been made since Smart Start was introduced, Magoon said.

"When we first started, there was pretty much low quality child care throughout Wayne County, with few exceptions," he said, noting that Head Start was probably one of those exceptions.

"We have worked diligently to increase the quality. Over the last five years the average star ratings have gone from 2.69 to 3.42 stars."

The rating is part of a 1-5 scale. The 5-star system was put into place in 2001.

Improving the quality of child care centers has been a specific goal for Smart Start. But the broader goal has been to raise the bar in other areas, Magoon said.

It's important, he said, to link parents to "whatever they're looking for in child care and educate them on how to choose quality child care." In addition to concentrating on the measurement standards set by the state, the agency is working hard to "brand ourselves, market our services as the only place that families in Wayne County need to go if they need something for young children," he said.

It helps to have a connection with a lot of resources -- Health Department, Department of Social Services, cooperative extension, Goldsboro Pediatrics, the school system and the hospital among them, Magoon said. Smart Start is appreciative of the relationships cultivated over the years.

But the collaboration has shifted as needs change. At the outset, Smart Start's function was to deal with children from birth to 5 years old, readying youngsters for school.

Today, though, Magoon said, "Smart Start and DPI (Department of Public Instruction) is saying, 'Are the schools ready for the kids when they get there?' Our job is to make sure there's a seamless transition and not just for the best learners, but for all children."

Workforce development is on everyone's lips these days, he added. That traces back to early childhood, preparing parents and children long before they reach high school and college.

"We're a Smart Start agency, but our vision is much bigger than just serving 4-year-olds or just the programs that we do," he said. "We're constantly looking to see if there's a need, if we can address it, or can we help find somebody who can.

"We do try and stay connected with anyone that has an interest in children."