Operation Breakthrough's mission is to help children who are
living in poverty develop to their fullest potential by providing them a safe,
loving, and educational environment. The Center also strives to support and
empower the children's families through education, advocacy, referral services,
and emergency aid.
Operation Breakthrough grew out of the former St. Vincent's
Elementary School where Sister Corita Bussanmas and Sister Berta Sailer began
teaching in 1967. In response to the needs of working-poor mothers in the
neighborhood, the Sisters opened a childcare center in their living room at 31st &
Paseo. When the Catholic Diocese closed the school in 1971 and withdrew
funding for childcare, the Sisters obtained Model Cities funding and
incorporated as Operation Breakthrough, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation
with no religious affiliation.
Last year, the OB board established a primary goal: Ensure
Operation Breakthrough becomes a center of excellence for the education of
high-risk children. With this in mind, new CEO Mary Esselman, PhD,
identified key areas for improvement. Some of the key action steps completed in 2015 include:
history of poverty and trauma among OB families mean children are at very high
risk for developmental delays and emotional/behavioral disturbance. Nearly 100 need treatment for speech and
language delays, which are often the result of literacy-poor home environments
where kids do not have exposure to books or adults who will read to them, due
in part to family instability and parents' low educational levels. Speech and language delays are also
indicative of – and contribute to – poor bonding between parent and child. Sensory integration issues, often related to
fetal drug or alcohol exposure, are also disproportionately represented at OB,
with over 150 children receiving treatment last year. In addition to developmental delays, 71
children are receiving individual treatment for emotional/ behavioral disorders
related to trauma and toxic stress.
Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Operation Breakthrough’s Early Childhood Education program provides hands-on learning experiences, supportive teacher interactions and language-rich environments for 266 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 years. Developmentally-appropriate programming is guided by Head Start and NAEYC with the goal of preparing children for success in school. The program operates weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to support parents who are working or going to school.
Our interdisciplinary model – partnering education, clinical and social services to support the whole child/whole family – is designed to ensure children’s academic success and healthy social-emotional development in a nurturing home environment. Comprehensive developmental assessments are conducted twice a year so that those experiencing delays can receive early interventions as needed and that education staff can tailor instructional plans to meet each child’s needs.
One important short-term goal is to increase access to technology to give preschoolers a solid foundation in Science, Technology, Math and Engineering (STEM) subjects, as well as 21st Century skills, including creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and curiosity. By introducing in-classroom technology and two purpose-built spaces – the MakerSpace and a STEM Lab – we aim to spur children’s interest in learning and to foster a love of play, solving problems, and making something from the resources at hand. We are also increasing efforts to help parents become more actively engaged in their children’s learning and committed to their success in school.
As a primary focus, Operation Breakthrough endeavors to prepare students to thrive as lifelong learners, starting with the long-term goal of every child meeting or surpassing kindergarten-readiness standards by the time they leave Operation Breakthrough. Overall, we are committed to creating classrooms that maximize well-being, interest, inquiry and exploration -- structuring time, curriculum, and environments to provide opportunities for students to discover, learn, develop resilience, and take ownership for their learning.
CLASS assessments, measuring the effectiveness of the classroom learning environment and teachers’ interactions with children, are conducted 2 times a year; the Spring 2016 round is currently underway and results will be available in June.
In addition to standard assessments, Operation Breakthrough also completed several important tasks over the past 12 months, from the creation of our new MakerSpace to a total revamp of classroom environments, introduction of new programs and resources for parents, and extended professional development opportunities for teaching staff. We are also working on a new data warehouse/dashboard system that will help us track outcomes on a real-time basis.
The purpose of our School-Age program is to provide a safe environment and high-quality educational care in the out-of-school hours for 112 at-risk children from 5 to 13 years old. During the school year, the first 45 minutes after children arrive from school is devoted to homework help, reading, and math. During the summer, certified teachers from the Upper Room facilitate an intensive reading program that runs from 8:30 – 11:30 every morning. Other activities are designed to promote students’ interest in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art + Design, and Math) subjects. In addition to supporting children's academic success, Operation Breakthrough is committed to enriching the lives of our children through programming that teaches self-discipline, fosters trusting relationships with peers and adults, and promotes positive character development. Mental Health and Psychiatric Services for those with persistent behavior/emotional problems are available on-site as needed by our clinical staff and/or through our tele-med connection with KU Child Psychiatrists.
Goals, outcomes and indicators for short-term success include:
1) Increase the number of at-risk youth who remain in school and improve their academic achievement.
Outcome: Enrolled students’ academic performance improves.
2) Increase the number of at-risk youth who become positive, contributing members of society.
Outcome: Enrolled students gain positive social-emotional skills.
Primary goals of the School-Age program are to:
Program success is monitored by Program Coordinator Tyler Baker and classroom teachers, who track daily attendance and conduct bi-annual social-emotional assessments to determine gains/losses in character development. In addition, Upper Room teachers conduct bi-annual reading assessments, using STAR Reader to determine each student’s reading grade level, and Accelerated Reader to measure children’s comprehension of the material they’ve read.
Program results for the 2014-15 program year
• Average daily attendance during the school-year was 82.6%, above target and up from the prior year’s rate of 74%. Average daily attendance during the summer session was 90%, up from last year’s 86.4% rate for summer.
• 60% of readers were on grade-level at the beginning of the summer session; by the end of the course, 73% were reading on grade-level, an increase of 13%. Although still less than our target, grade level reading has improved remarkably since we first began tracking grade-level reading and had only 12% on grade at the start of the program and 23% by the end.
• Results of social-emotional development assessments showed a 0.5 increase since January 2015, meaning that out of a perfect score of 40, children’s scores averaged 34.7, up from 34.2 in January.
• Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) observational checklists showed gains of +15 for Teacher Reflection, +11 for Creating Child-centered spaces, +10 for Planning and +9 for School-Age Choice, indicating solid improvement in four key areas.
I’m pleased to report that
the Operation Breakthrough Board voted
unanimously at its March meeting to partner with De LaSalle High School
(“DLHS”) to operate their onsite early learning center. A part of our strategic
plan 3 years ago was to consider expanding our reach via multi-site locations,
however it been cost prohibitive up to this point due to the facility costs that
we would incur. Because DLHS already has a great space for early childhood
learning, Operation Breakthrough will be able to operate the center in a cost
effective manner, taking our expertise at learning and wrap-around services
with us. Not only will we be able to take care of a certain number of DLHS
students’ children, it will allow us to serve up to 14 additional children from
our waiting list. While there are still many details to work out, this is a
great opportunity to expand our reach in the community, and will give us an
opportunity to take care of additional children in the same loving and
nurturing manner as we do at 31st &
As a 25-year veteran of urban
education, Mary Esselman has a wealth of experience that comes from innovating
in schools. Before joining Operation
Breakthrough, she was responsible for spearheading the implementation of a
variety of innovative, student-centered systems in Detroit, where she and her
team worked to disrupt traditional public schooling in order to provide a
prototype for personalized, blended, 21st century teaching and learning. Mary was also
instrumental in obtaining three Next Generation Learning Challenge grants from
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Earlier, as Assistant Superintendent of the Kansas
City, Missouri School District, she was responsible for Professional
Development, Assessment & Accountability. Over the years, she has worked with a wide
range of students—from pre-K up to age 20—and with educational organizations in
Washington DC, Chicago, Kansas City, and Detroit.
Mary holds a Masters in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Kansas; a Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri, Columbia; a doctorate degree in Philosophy, Leadership Transformation and Organizational Renewal from the University of Missouri, Columbia; and a doctorate in Education, Educational Research and Evaluation from the University of Louisville. She’s also done course work in Education at George Mason University, the University of the District of Columbia, and at UMKC. Over the course of her career, she’s received many accolades and awards, published extensively on education systems and policy, and been a keynote speaker at numerous regional and national industry conferences.
history of serving large numbers of high-risk children has forced us to develop
innovative, cost-effective strategies and enduring partnerships with other
community service providers. We've provided enhanced learning
opportunities through Early Head Start/Head Start programs since 1998 in
partnership with Mid-America Head Start and The Family Conservancy.
Children's Mercy Hospital and Children International provide nurse
practitioners for our on-site pediatric clinic and HOPE Dental provides on-site
dental care. KU Medical Center provides psychiatric services through
a tele-med link with KU child psychologists, as well as an on-site occupational
therapist. Through partnerships with KU's and UMKC's graduate programs in
social work, 3-5 graduate students also complete their social work internships
at OB each year, assisting families in the Food Pantry and providing support to
Family Advocates. In 2014, we also began a new collaboration with
Children's Mercy Hospital to assess and develop intervention strategies for
children who suffer from toxic stress. We also work in partnership with
several local emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, and
health/mental health clinics to help ensure family stability during difficult
The Senior Management team consists of the CEO, the CFO/COO, the Director of Early Learning and the Director of Clinical & Social
Services. Key management goals are to:
The organization is frequently inspected and assessed by a variety of entities throughout the year, including Head Start, NAEYC, state licensing, fire and health Inspections. In all cases, there were no significant findings and actions were taken immediately to address minor concerns.
Since its founding over 4 decades ago, Operation Breakthrough has grown in complexity and in the
number and range of services rendered. The
agency is governed by a 16-20-member Board of Directors. In addition to
an Executive Committee, the Board’s standing committees include: Finance,
Audit, Personnel, Development, Strategic Planning, Membership and
Governance. The Board meets 10 times/year and holds an annual
planning retreat every February. The CEO and CFO attend all
Board meetings, but are not voting members. The organization has a
Conflict of Interest Policy and strongly believes in transparency.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
financial statements for FY 2015 (ending 10/31/15) show revenues of $8,061,079
and expenses (including depreciation) of $7,768,427. Higher than planned revenue allowed us
to: 1) increase teacher pay scales to
bring OB to 90% of the Kansas City
market rate to encourage staff retention;
2) add 10 part-time paraprofessionals in pre-k classrooms to improve teacher:child ratios;
and 3) expand the number of days devoted to professional development to
continue building staff qualifications/capacity. In addition to these improvements, we
continue to build operating reserves; as of December 31, 2015, reserves totaled
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