Horizons’ greatest strength has always been its people. Family after family has expressed gratitude for the work the Horizons team does to assist them on their journeys while teaching and nurturing the children in their care. In recent months, the executive leadership team has made bold steps to invest in Horizons’ workforce and their valuable contributions to the lives of families experiencing homelessness. These steps also support Horizons’ organizational focus on equity and workforce wellbeing.
82% of Horizons’ staff serve as teachers in the Early Education center. Massachusetts early educators with a bachelor’s degree are paid 35.2 percent less than their colleagues in the K-8 system. The poverty rate for early educators in Massachusetts is 15.3 percent, much higher than for Massachusetts workers in general (8.7 percent) and 6.6 times as high as for K-8 teachers (2.3 percent).1 Early educators have always been paid less despite their education and training being on par with teachers in the K-8 system. Given the importance of the role of early educators, when young minds are growing so quickly, these rates do not reflect the value of the work they do.
At Horizons, the work of educators is particularly critical and specialized. Children enrolled in our school have experienced the trauma of homelessness and their parents are often focusing on addressing their housing situation. The Horizons team focuses on healthy brain development and is trained to use a trauma-informed approach with each child. Their work acknowledges the unique ways children living in shelter are vulnerable and works to set each child up for success in elementary school and beyond. Many of our teachers bring additional skills to our work, like being bilingual in the native languages of the families in our community.
In a recent survey of Horizons’ employees, teachers and staff revealed that many were facing their own economic challenges. Only 56% said they had enough money to cover their basic needs and 55% reported working a second job or looking for one to supplement their income. Recruiting new teachers was a challenge at the lowest market rate, which meant staffing pressures and not enough coverage to open classrooms to meet demand. Meanwhile, a look at the demographics of the center staff reveals the teaching staff are largely women of color, making the issue of low pay more than just a matter of economics.
The leadership team at Horizons recognized these deficiencies and made changes to underscore its commitment to having a workforce of highly engaged, well-trained and committed people. With the support of the Board of Directors, compensation practices have changed in three ways.
Last fall, the leadership team implemented a comprehensive, organization-wide review of performance, growth, and compensation to ensure equity in how performance-based bonuses and increases were decided. These new standards were rolled out to employees in the Fall of 2021.
Next, adjustments were made to teaching titles to better align with roles and responsibilities, providing more structure and transparency to educators’ career paths. Horizons will continue to invest in training for teachers and opportunities for advancement within, so that teachers who want to advance have opportunities to do so.
“We are excited to create new opportunities for our educators to grow both professionally and financially within the classroom setting where they can continue making a life-changing difference doing what they love most,” said Laura DiMaria, Horizons’ Human Resources Director.
The final step rolled out early in January 2022, adjusting pay scales to align more closely with educator salaries in the K-12 system. This was done to acknowledge that Horizons’ educators play a vital role and bring unique, trauma-informed skills to their work. It also makes pay scales more inclusive and equitable for our workforce. The new minimum base salary organization-wide is now $47,500 (equal to $22.84/hour) for regular, full-time staff.
“We are doing our part to create the world we want to see, where we value the work of our early educators who are molding the minds of future generations. Their work requires unique skills and training and we’re pleased to be in a position to compensate our staff accordingly,” said Kate Barrand, Horizons’ CEO.