A Catalyst for Community change & Making Connections- Insights with Shayla Williams-Barnes
By Valerie Kelly & Shayla Williams-Barnes
This past year has been a difficult one and more than ever, we are increasingly reliant on our field staff especially when it comes to ensuring ratios, sanitation guidelines, and increasing needs for childcare as many return to work. We had a chance to interview Shayla Williams-Barnes, Senior Program Director for our Sacramento region and we’re excited to learn more about her valuable experiences and her dedication to Catalyst Family Inc.
How long have you been with Catalyst Kids? Have you had any other roles/titles with us?
I first started with the organization in 2013 originally when the company was still known as CDI/CDC. I was a Site Supervisor with Regnart in the Bay Area for a year. I relocated because I wanted to be closer to my parents who lived in Fairfield. I was happy to later return to the company in a new role as a Senior Program Director. I’ve been in this position for 2 years now. I really love my job and especially love working in the Sacramento area.
Tell me about your career and educational background. What roles were you in prior to coming to Catalyst?
I have multiple degrees. I have a Bachelor’s in Child Development from Sac State with a minor in Social Welfare and Pan-African studies. I have a master’s degree in Early Childhood Studies and an Education specialist degree both from Walden University in Educational Leadership. I am currently working on my doctorate degree, and I have a few years to go. I started off in education in the admin role at Sac state working under the Academic Talent Search gifted and talented program. I gained a lot of leadership skills and a better understanding of how to support families in my many years there. I eventually relocated to Atlanta, GA, and opened an in-home Preschool for about 7 years. My preschool gained many state awards for program quality which I am pretty proud of. My family and I relocated back to California where I spent our first year back at CDI and later as a director and district leader at KinderCare. Prior to starting at Catalyst Kids as a Sr PD, I worked as an executive director for a non-profit here in Sacramento but quickly learned I really wanted to work more in the field supporting staff, children, and families.
I started off when the company was Continuing Development in San Jose. I l truly loved it – one of my key takeaways from back then was the importance placed on growth and development for leaders. I loved how the company nurtured interest, leadership, and education in all staff in the field.
Can you share an experience when you’ve seen a teacher or child’s life change at Catalyst Kids?
It was at one of our subsidized Sacramento centers that had a good number of children with behavioral challenges. Our Site Supervisor at this location has consistently been extremely patient and attentive to all children. There were a group of three children who were completely nonverbal due to limited outside exposure. They came to us through foster as their grandparents had found them. It took about the course of a year for them to get acclimated to the new environment through the nurturing and patience of the staff and site supervisor at this center. Most of their days were spent with our teaching team which aided in helping them build trust and learn proper communication. We got to watch how they grew and witness the level of attention the SS had given these children. They went from being completely nonverbal to very sociable children. It was such an incredible transformation.
We also had a newly single father who was struggling to provide adequate basic needs for his children. We connected him with resources through a PAC meeting and the Site Supervisor was able to supply different community resources and connect him with a social worker to ensure the family’s needs were met. Our educators really advocated for the children and really partnered with outside agencies to provide care for not only the children, but for the single father. One of the teachers noticed something about the one child who was hoarding food and another was not eating and wasn’t clean. CPS had almost gotten involved, but the center was really able to work with the family on this before it came to that.
One of our Elk Grove sites had a child enroll that was previously at Kinder Care. This child is just amazing and brilliant and ahead of his age. He really needed a program that challenged him, he was able to manipulate programs and websites through the support and creativeness from the SS and her team. His dad was also very tech-savvy.
What do you enjoy most about being a Program Director or working here at Catalyst Family?
I love connecting with people and seeing people surprise themselves through their own growth while also helping leaders grow and challenging them to do better. They want to learn and be challenged. Several of them are working toward master’s degrees and I love encouraging them as they work to better themselves. I love seeing their excitement when they accomplish something, especially when it is something they have been working hard on. I love the connections I have made and growing leaders.
Our community partnerships and relationships are so important and are truly one of the highlights of my job. As Senior PDs, we build relationships with school districts, county and state departments, other nonprofits, and an array of other businesses. This year with covid, it has been tough on most businesses, but we have been able to use our relationships in each of our communities to build an even greater business, support one another and thrive. In some instances, school districts have even reached out to us to ask for support in navigating this new life after COVID. I am so proud of the work my entire Senior PD team has put into nurturing these relationships that have assisted us and all our communities in different ways.
What does a typical day look like in the role of a Program Director?
The days are long, you gotta love what you do. I am constantly checking my phone for any emergencies or communications that are urgent. There are usually several conference calls and center visits during the week along with district partnership responsibilities. There are also several agency-wide project partnerships that demand a little time. Throughout the day, I definitely put out a lot of fires and do a lot of consulting with leaders on various decision-making tasks and important issues that may arise with children and families. Center visits are a big part of the normal routine for a program director-it is the time where you really get to connect with teachers and center leaders. It is one of my favorite things to do. It is also the time where you truly see the “why” behind the work we do. You get to see the children engaged with teachers and that is truly the best. As a Senior PD, we are in the field at least 3 days a week. I usually have 1-2 days to work remotely and catch up on admin stuff, various projects and to avoid falling behind on emails, partnership meetings, etc. It is so important for program directors to be present in the centers so when I am there I try to present and not constantly answering emails, texts, and calls. Some days are easily 12 hours long, so we must remind ourselves about practicing self-care. I definitely encourage self-care in various forms with my teams.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of? Why?
I am so proud that collectively as an agency, we are one of the few places that stayed open during covid. Our leadership and commitment to families and children. Many people in the education industry were just like how were you able to make it through this so far and remain open? We followed all the guidelines, and we continue to keep children safe. I also really love how we were able to support those essential working families in the beginning of COVID. It really highlighted our stake in each of the communities as a staple business.
Tell me something that you think makes our organization unique.
I think our organization is so unique because we cater to and advocate for the whole child. We also offer services in specialized areas such as our migrant areas, and court programs. I remember first hearing about that when I started here and thought, wow, how innovative is it to consider such a small unique community of families who need our services.
I also love that we are able to acknowledge that everybody is different and specialized resources for families based on individual needs. We also provide support through school partnerships and attend meetings with teachers and families to show support. We show that we really care about your child outside of our building.
When I think of our school-age programs, I think of all the great programming we offer including cool child-centered clubs. Through our clubs, for example, we can develop a topic into a full club of learning, interacting, and often creating all based on a child’s interest. In many instances, we are able to introduce children to foods and experiences that they have never been exposed to. My daughters both attended our centers when they were younger, and one of their favorite experiences was being a part of the international cooking club in which children chose a different country to focus on each week and learn about. As a result, my daughter now knows how to make great sushi!
What do you wish people knew about the world of childcare/camps / etc. (their program)?
It really depends on the audience. I wish others could see the passion that the people in this field have. Educators truly get into the field to make the lives of children better. There are so many selfless acts that people in education do every day. Whether it is working through a pandemic or not always being able to take a lunch break. We are constantly giving, and those who do that really thrive off of doing so.
Is there a particular student or teacher who has inspired you?
Our newest assistant Site Supervisor at Patwin. A lot of us have been stuck in a covid rut lately and she is new to the agency and is always so optimistic. She brings a lot of positive energy and vibes to the team despite coming in to face a lot of hurdles. Every time I talk to her, she will talk about some of the things she might be facing and her viewpoints. She just has a super positive mindset ever since coming into the role. She is so passionate about her role and really advocates for the children and families. She is so selfless and is always striving to do better all the time. Times are hard being short-staffed and I really need someone like that on my team to often hear a unique perspective. Even when times are hard, she is honest and optimistic. Her positive energy is so inspiring.