"Foundational relationship-building" helps child care providers improve their practice.

When Jeanine Kankindi first opened her group family day care in Rochester in 2022, she didn’t have a separate bank account for her business. When she purchased supplies for the day care, “I would use the first card I found in my purse,” she remembers. “At the end of the year I would have to calculate how much I spent for the business, but it was all mixed with my personal account. It was very stressful.”

Then, as a recipient of a Child Care Deserts Grant, Kankindi was paired with a Quality Improvement Specialist from QUALITYstarsNY, the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System for early childhood programs. Kankindi’s specialist, Rachel Zielinski, suggested she attend a three-part training on business practices offered by QUALITYstarsNY.

“That class gave me an understanding of how to budget my personal vs. my business income,” says Kankindi. “I went to the bank and opened a business account, and they gave me a card for the business. Now when I have to buy something for the day care, I use that business card — it’s really much easier.”

Kankindi is one among thousands of early childhood educators who have been impacted by QUALITYstarsNY.

“If I could summarize QUALITYstarsNY in one word, it would be ‘supportive,’” says Zielinski. “Everything we do is based on a program’s goals and needs. We meet providers where they are.” 

Kankindi, who has four grown children of her own, has been caring for young children for more than 15 years. But she was eager to participate in QUALITYstarsNY because “I knew I would learn a lot,” she says. “It was really my dream to see my day care grow and become more professional.”

Zielinski, who works with more than 20 family and group family providers in the Finger Lakes region, says that her approach to working with early care and learning programs hinges on “foundational relationship-building.”

“When you participate in QUALITYstarsNY, we’re not coming in to tell you what you’re doing wrong,” she says. “We’re not working off a checklist that everyone has to do in the same order. I listen to where providers are coming from and what they’re looking for, and then we work to drive program quality.”

For Kankindi, working with Zielinski has been “amazing.” She says she has especially appreciated Zielinski’s patience in working to understand her needs, because English is not Kankindi’s first language.

“She’s showed me how to do research online to find what I need,” Kankindi says. “Or I show her what I do and she shows me another way of doing something that’s easier.”

After participating in the business course, Kankindi was inspired to launch new accounting practices to manage her day care’s finances.

“I’m really proud of myself,” she says. “To be free of that stress — I feel like I’m going to live 10 more years.”

That feeling of success, says Zielinski, helps program leaders feel confident and motivates them to strive for new goals. Because QUALITYstarsNY operates on a three-year cycle in which program leaders meet monthly with their Quality Improvement Specialist, programs are able to invest time in reaching long-term quality goals.

“Participating in QUALITYstarsNY is empowering,” says Zielinski. “Sometimes family providers don’t see themselves as professionals. They’ll say, ‘I’m ‘just’ a provider.’ And I say, ‘No, you’re also a business owner. You built this.’ We put the ownership in their hands. When they see themselves making progress, they get that excitement and eagerness to continue.”

Kankindi, for instance, is already focused on her next big goal: implementing a new curriculum. 

“I just got an email from QUALITYstarsNY about a class where they’ll teach us about this curriculum, and that’s the next goal I’m going to do seriously,” she says. “If I do that, I’ll be so happy.”