Quality Counts 10 Year Anniversary: Molly Talbot-Metz

Good evening, I’m Molly Talbot-Metz, President and CEO of the Mary Black Foundation. I am thrilled to be here tonight celebrating 10 years of Quality Counts.

First, I want to thank Barbara, Tammy, and the First Steps team for their work in making Quality Counts a statewide model. In fact, in 2020, Quality Counts was recognized with an Award for Excellence by What Works SC, an initiative of Furman University’s Riley Institute.  Counties across SC, as well as our partners in state government, have recognized the unique role that Quality Counts plays in our community.

Second, I want to thank all of the childcare providers who participate in Quality Counts. Without you, we wouldn’t be here tonight.

In preparing for tonight, I looked back through my files and was reminded about the long journey to Quality Counts. My daughter, Kaitlyn, graduates high school next month. She is 18 years old. I was pregnant with her when I attended my first meeting about a statewide effort to develop a quality rating and improvement system for childcare programs. Palmetto Stars, it was called. I remember being really excited and hopeful that I’d have this amazing tool to use as a parent who would need childcare.

But, as they say, good things come to those who wait…

From 2004-2011, the Mary Black Foundation provided grants to First Steps to implement quality enhancement projects in 19 child development centers. Trainings and classroom make-overs were offered and strong relationships between First Steps and the childcare community were formed over that 7-year period. But, still no rating system.

In the late 2000’s, the plans for the statewide quality rating and improvement system died and conversations shifted to a pilot in the Upstate.  After many meetings with leaders in Greenville about a two-county pilot, we decided a pilot in Spartanburg was the most feasible.

The pilot was developed to assess, improve, and communicate the level of quality in early care and education settings by building on the lessons learned from the failed statewide effort and the experiences of successful quality rating and improvement systems in other states.

We held focus groups with parents, childcare directors, and community partners to gather perceptions, concerns, and attitudes.

And, finally, in 2012, we launched Quality Counts!

Given the challenges that we saw through the state’s attempt to do something similar, we expected pushback. We didn’t think everyone would be supportive of this new initiative and we thought for sure we’d have to recruit centers to join the voluntary program. So, we were especially surprised by the initial interest and desire to participate.

40% of childcare programs applied to participate in the pilot. This was way more than we were prepared to enroll into Quality Counts, and we immediately began talking about how we could serve every center that wanted to participate. We even evolved the model to include public school 4K classrooms because our local school superintendents saw the value of Quality Counts.

This has been the experience over the last 10 years – strong interest and desire by childcare providers and educators to be part of our network committed to high quality early care and education!