A Time Use Study of Site Support Personnel in New York City’s UPK Program

New study highlights the complexity and importance of early childhood education site support personnel in advancing quality program implementation

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) examined the critical role of New York City’s pre-kindergarten (pre-K) site support personnel and what they need to further assist program leaders and educators to provide quality early learning. Site support personnel consist of instructional coordinators, social workers, who help early educators to better teach children and assist families, and policy specialists, who focus on foundational quality such as health and safety and governance. The report, A Time Use Study of Site Support Personnel in New York City’s UPK Program, shows that site support personnel provide wide-ranging and much-needed expertise and technical assistance across multiple areas, and would benefit from greater recognition for the important role they play.

Researchers Sharon Ryan and Zijia Li explored the many duties of site support personnel in NYC’s universal pre-K program to better understand how they used their time day to day from 2017 to 2018. While much has changed in the New York City early childhood system since the time of the study, findings still have relevance to the field locally and nationally. Study participants shared time-use reports that revealed commonalities across the teams. By far, the majority of their time was spent providing technical assistance to programs, with slight variations depending on their role. The researchers state, however, that the complexity of the technical assistance and preparation by site support personnel is less widely understood by other key stakeholders in the early education field.

“The support staff we interviewed were working in many roles and multitasking in many ways,” says Ryan. “There is not a lot of awareness of the interpersonal relations that take place at multiple levels for this work. From talking to a security guard to helping with school meals, to talking with teachers about instructional practices to working with families. There is intricate planning that goes into preparing for each day and these individuals are navigating both the policy context and the local community context at the same time.”

This work of site support personnel is applied and custom. In addition to the intricacy of navigating interpersonal interactions, community needs, and policy requirements, site support personnel must also be experts at adult learning principles and how to match them to the developmental stage of teaching staff and leadership.

“Support staff have to rethink solutions,” says Ryan. “What are the strengths of a particular group of teachers and how can we build from that? They are constantly building up that knowledge and tailoring it to the context of teachers and leaders they are working with. To work with adults to catalyze change, you really need to understand how adults learn, and those we interviewed did not have time for formal professional development.”

The research points to several implications for consideration by early childhood system leaders who are working to improve site-support, recognizing that the NYC Department of Education has been implementing many of these strategies:

  • Ensure access to professional development opportunities to bolster knowledge of adult learning principles and best practices in navigating organizational contexts
  • Coordinate site-support personnel roles across agencies and functions
  • Create opportunities for site-support personnel to learn from colleagues and peers about the key issues they face, cutting across individual focus and role

“In an environment that is constantly changing, and even more so due to COVID-19, it is important to prioritize professional development opportunities for site support personnel,” says Li. “When informal, in-person interactions are limited because of remote circumstances, giving them dedicated time to learn, plan, and interact with peers to strengthen their practices is invaluable to linking policy to real-world application and improving outcomes.”

#   #   #

This research was made possible by the New York City Early Childhood Research Network, a unique partnership of researchers from the city’s higher education institutions who work with the New York City Department of Education, New York City Administration for Children’s Services, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity to study the implementation of New York City’s early childhood system and use the knowledge gained to improve instruction and outcomes for all children. This study was funded by the Foundation for Child Development. The New York City Early Childhood Research Network is a project of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York and is funded by Early Childhood Partners NYC, Foundation for Child Development, Heising-Simons Foundation, and the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation.


Sharon Ryan
National Institute for Early Education Research
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Zijia Li
National Institute for Early Education Research
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Sherry Cleary
University Dean and Executive Director
New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute
16 Court Street, 31st Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11241