The Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN), connecting center-based and family child care programs together to collaboratively tackle challenges that face the sector, is expanding its reach. This network has been active since January of 2019, beginning with two programs located in rural Vernon County, Wisconsin. Today, WEESSN engages 135 early care and education (ECE) programs across the Southern half of Wisconsin. With generous funding from the Department of Children and Families and a bold vision that leverages broad partnerships and technology, WEESSN is set to expand its services and service areas in meaningful ways. Most notably this fall, WEESSN services will be split into tiered levels for ECE programs located anywhere in the state via technology (see Service Expansion Section). Additionally, WEESSN’s regional approach to shared staffing will also be expanded in new regions of the state.
“It’s incredible how far this program has come in the past three years with a vision and generous start-up funding from Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment. We started with two child care programs in one county and WEESSN has continued to blossom ever since.” – Kelly Matthews WEESSN Co-Director
With a keen focus on meeting the ever-changing, contextual needs of the early care and education sector in Wisconsin, the WEESSN team continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Here are some ways this is playing out in real-time:
- Technological Adaptability: By providing devices and responsive technical assistance, WEESSN is helping ECE programs save time and money utilizing technology. Now, the team is focused on advocating for equitable paperwork requirements for family child care providers and working with software developers to create a comprehensive solution to meet those requirements digitally for Wisconsin providers.
- Networked Food Systems: The WEESSN team has been building regional inroads between community-led food and nutrition equity systems and ECE programs to ensure fresh produce is a daily component of the meals growing children receive each day.
- Supporting Mental and Physical Health: WEESSN is committed to a long-term vision of bringing more resources into ECE programs aimed at increasing the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of early educators across the state, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. This past year, the team has engaged in collaborations with health care navigation organizations, crisis intervention counselors, and established a new partnership with Ally Health for ongoing telehealth and mental health supports for ECE providers.
WEESSN started with a focus on impacting the amount and quality of ECE within rural Vernon and Monroe Counties. As the program expanded to urban areas of the state, the model evolved utilizing place-based responsiveness to ensure contextual factors were consistently addressed in programming. The team has learned to leverage technology and efficiencies in-house so that this level of understanding and community partnership remains the cornerstone of the program as it expands. This fall, WEESSN services will be offered within three-tiered levels of membership. Depending on what level of support an ECE provider needs and where they are located, they can choose a membership level that works for them. Within the three tiers of services, the first two will no longer require ECE programs to be operating within a specific region of the state to gain access, while tier three will remain a regional approach that includes shared staffing.
- Tier 1 – most widely available, will offer tools, templates, and resources for ECE owners and administrators focused on HR, Administration, staff recruitment, and environments via a virtual platform. Accompanying access to these shared resources are monthly newsletters and quarterly training sessions to best leverage these resources.
- Tier 2 – available to 150 ECE programs across the state includes all of Tier 1 services, with the addition of virtual professional development, access to mentorship with a WEESSN coach, and general health care supports through telemedicine.
- Tier 3 – is the deepest level of shared resources, support, and staffing (substitute teachers and bookkeepers). This tier is currently offered in some regions of the state, including Jackson, Vernon, Monroe, Iowa, Crawford, Grant, Green, Lafayette, Richland and Dane Counties, and the City of Milwaukee. Tier 3 will soon be expanding to include Sauk, Columbia, Dodge, Jefferson and La Crosse Counties and will also include a Spanish language cohort.
As a network that has been intentionally created by, for, and with the ECE community, WEESSN will continue to innovate and leverage resources to benefit as many ECE programs in Wisconsin as possible. The team is humbled by an outpouring of support and generous contributions that keep the Network in operation. In collaboration with partners like the Department of Children and Families, UW-Madison’s Co-Create, Early Learning Ventures, Satellite Family Child Care, and LegUp, WEESSN is working to strengthen programmatic infrastructure with evaluation, strategic planning, technological development, and increased supports for high-quality ECE environments. The challenges facing the ECE community are greater than ever before and WEESSN is ready to provide much-needed relief.
This work would not be possible without our generous partners.
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“We couldn’t be more excited about this next phase of WEESSN and are thrilled to be able to start serving programs anywhere in the state. We have an amazing team in place and we’re ready to get started!” – Paula Drew, WEESSN Co-Director