Local child care centers earn four stars

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— Three Steamboat area preschools have earned top rating in state evaluations.

Heritage Park Preschool, Discovery Learning Center and GrandKids Child Care Center all received four stars, the best possible, in the Qualistar ratings. Qualistar is a state organization that evaluates and rates preschools. The ratings are from evaluations conducted in 2005, Heritage Park Preschool executive director Audrey Zwak said.

Qualistar will evaluate area preschools again in the spring.

"You feel like you are ready for them to come," Zwak said. "No matter how prepared, you are nervous when they come. They walk in and start writing stuff down. They literally show up with a clipboard and follow you around."

Qualistar gives a four-week window when its evaluators will show up, but instructors and children don't know exactly when. The evaluators spend a day in each preschool room, scoring everything from the health and safety standards to the ratio between children and teachers.

"It's a lengthy process," Zwak said.

Qualistar returns with a binder of improvements even for top-notch preschools.

Routt County has six additional child care centers that received three-star ratings. One Hayden provider received two stars.

Stephanie Howle, executive director of First Impressions of Routt County, said any rating of two or higher is great, and the three four-star facilities are exceptional.

"A really neat thing is we have the most three and four-star centers of any county in Colorado per capita," Zwak said. "We have some of the highest ratings in the state."

Heritage Park Preschool scored well in all areas, but its strengths are in family partnerships and low student-to-teacher ratios.

Heritage Park Preschool is licensed to have 45 children a day, and it has 10 teachers, including Zwak. The preschool is unique because it is housed inside the Christian Heritage School, which is a private school with an indoor gym, kitchen, art and music room.

Heritage Park Preschool is not a private, religious school, but it is allowed to use Christian Heritage's facilities.

"Our favorite thing to say is, 'when kids are ready for school, they are ready for life,'" Zwak said. "I know it sounds corny, but we say it all the time."

Heritage Park Preschool has openings at its school. For more information, contact Zwak at 879-7811.

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