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Association for Early Learning Leaders
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Association for Early Learning Leaders History

Formerly the National Association of Child Care Professionals (NACCP)



The Association for Early Learning Leaders is an organization committed to strengthen the skills of owners, directors, administrators, emerging leaders and other professionals who are dedicated to early care and education. Its roots originated from an entrepreneurial initiative known as Associates in Human Development, Incorporated by Dora Fowler in 1984. The Association for Early Learning Leaders, formerly the National Association of Child Care Professional (NACCP), as it is structured today, evolved and was brought into its legally constituted identity by the leadership of Donna K. Thornton in 1998.



In the late 1970's the University of Illinois discontinued its undergraduate program leading to a bachelor of science in child care administration, while other institutions only offered programs in child care administration at the local level. To meet the need for training of child care directors and administrators, Associates in Human Development, Inc. created educational seminars covering all aspects of the administration and management of a child care center. Each seminar provided participants with materials created specifically for the topic as it pertained to the child care industry.


In the early 1980’s there were few opportunities for management and administrative training at the national level. Child care management training was offered by National Louis University, Banks College, Nova University, The High Scope Foundation and Pacific Oaks College at the graduate level. The Erickson Institute in Chicago offered a graduate degree in child development, but still, little was covered in the area of child care administration.


Associates In Human Development, Inc. (AHD, Inc.) pioneered this concept in the child care field in 1980. Following the successful launch of "The Person In Charge of Child Care,” presented at the National Association for the Education of Young Children National Convention in Los Angeles, AHD, Inc. became the first organization to market and present management seminars for child care in 1982. AHD, Inc. conducted a total of 25 seminars at the time.


In 1984, AHD, Inc. determined the need for a national association exclusively for child care management. Under the umbrella of AHD, Inc., the Association conducted seminars, while offering professional memberships in a national association exclusively dedicated to the administration of child care.


In the fall of 1989, AHD, Inc. introduced total child care management training and certification to the nation’s child care directors through a three-day training conference entitled, The Successful Director Administration Conference. Participants completed the certification process by passing a written examination. In 1990, statewide conferences were enlarged to include one-day staff conferences.


In 1994, an independent consultant, Donna Thornton Roberts, purchased Associates In Human Development, Inc. (AHD).


In 1995, AHD, Inc. launched the first national effort to increase the quality of child care by providing training and support services to the people who operate child care centers under the name of the National Association of Child Care Professionals (NACCP). It was determined at this time that AHD, Inc. and NACCP needed to become separate organizations to better meet the needs of the child care industry.


An informal board of governors established a strategy to begin the transition of separating the two entities. The board’s mission was to set a national precedence to strengthen the skill level of child care administrators by providing tools to identify and better understand the multiple duties and responsibilities of early education program administrators; to demonstrate knowledge, skills, techniques and strategies useful in the management of a variety of early education programs; and to apply data, knowledge, and skills in a practical problem solving manner related to program management. A five-year strategy was set to develop new membership services, increase membership and establish corporate collaborations.


It was determined that membership services were to be opened to all programs regardless of the center’s tax status or legal structure. Services included an annual national convention; the trade journal, Professional Connections©; Tools of the Trade™, a copy free collection of management forms used in human resource management; and a toll-free directors support hotline consisting of a team of resource specialists, including an attorney-at-law, specializing in management issues, a banker, a CPA, a child development expert, and a human resource management specialist. Annual membership dues were set at $75.00 per director with a goal of 1,000 members.


In July 1996 NACCP, formed an alliance with the National Early Care and Education Association (NECEA). In doing so, NACCP acquired the management of its accreditation system, the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care & Education Programs, which was originally developed in 1991 and field tested in several states.


In 1997, NACCP membership reached 1,200 and NACCP’s website was introduced, which added additional membership benefits of a free listing on the National Yellow Pages.


After a three year process, the National Association of Child Care Professionals received its legal status as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization in 1998. It was determined as a national trade association with the purpose of enhancing the quality of child care by supporting directors and administrators with a wide range of support and training services.


In 2000, NACCP hired an executive director and professional staff to execute membership services and the national office was moved from Christiansburg, Virginia to Austin, Texas.


Under NACCP, the National Accreditation Commission’s standards were revised in January of 2001. This revision was a collaborative effort of early childhood professionals and was based on excellent practices in the field of early childhood and feedback from programs that had participated in the accreditation process. The 2006 revisions included more recent quality research and the requirement of specific age-appropriate activities for achieving accountability for school-readiness.


Development of the 2009 revision formally began in the fall of 2007 with a comprehensive review of all areas of the current National Accreditation Commission’s system. The goal was to ensure that standards were inclusive of current research and effective in identifying markers of high quality care for young children.


The revision process included extensive research of State Early Learning Standards and QRS systems; reports on quality indicators by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACRRA), The National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center (NCCIC) and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER); measures of leadership and management as defined in the Program Administration Scale (PAS); recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Association for Sport & Physical Education (NASPE); and current research on best practices in early childhood education and care. All relevant areas of study were reviewed, including administration, staff development, classroom environment, curriculum, teacher-child interactions, health and safety.


Suggestions for the revision were solicited from professionals in the fields of early childhood, health, safety, law and administration. In the spring of 2008, the draft revision was released for outside review.


The proposed Administrator’s Report was reviewed to assure that best leadership and management practices were included and that these standards were measurable. Many recognized authorities in the early childhood field provided encouragement and offered insights in this project, including: Dorothy June Sciarra, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and author of "Developing and Administering a Child Care Center;” Hilde Reno, Ed.D., Director of Instruction and Special Projects at Mailman Segal Institute, Nova Southeastern University and author of "Handbook for Early Childhood Administrators: Directing with a Mission;” and Jill Bella MS, Director of Special Projects for the McCormick Tribune Center for Early Childhood Leadership and co-author of "Zoom: The Impact of Early Childhood Leadership Training on Role Perceptions, Job Performance, and Career Decisions.” Recommendations were reviewed and appropriate modifications were incorporated into the final version of the Administrator’s Report.


The proposed Classroom Observation tool was reviewed to assure that standards were inclusive of research-based indicators of quality care and that these standards were measurable. Numerous early childhood professionals provided suggestions on revision of this section. and NAC Validators responded as to their experience with the previous tool, enabling greater clarity of standards and more measurable indicators in the revision draft.


In 2009, NACCP reached another significant milestone when it transitioned from a 501(c)(6) to a 501(c)(3) organization after acquisition of the Institute for Child Care Excellence.


In 2012, NACCP made significant changes and implemented a rebranding campaign in addition to a name change to the Association for Early Learning Leaders, as the first steps in pursuing a well-connected, more involved organization of leaders, where ideas are shared, relationships developed and best practices are learned.


Today, the Association of Early Learning Leaders is considered one of the top associations serving administrators in the early care and education field. Since 1984, it has provided professional development opportunities for thousands of early learning administrators including the How Successful Directors Lead National Conference, the Fall Leadership Symposium and the Owners Only Executive Institute. Program excellence is promoted through the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs with over 1,400 programs participating including over 1000 accredited programs in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

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