Starling International Child Care & Learning Complex nabbed the No. 1 workplace spot in the small company category in its first entry in the Top Workplaces competition.
“Starling’s employees are what makes it a top workplace,” Starling Principal Donna Goff said.
Teachers, administrators, cooks, janitors and bus drivers — everyone recognizes that their jobs are among the most important in the world, she said.
“Talk about essential workers. Starling’s staff is made up of professionals who are dedicated to the health, safety and education of young children,” Goff said. “They worked everyday in-person even during the most uncertain times of a pandemic.”
Founded in 1995, the private day care and learning center serves children from infants through middle school students. Its headquarters location off Starling Drive in Henrico County provides child care for infants through second-grade students and free school hours of education for children ages 3-4.
A nearby second location in a community center at Quioccasin Baptist Church serves as a virtual learning school — called The Neighborhood Virtual School — for second-grade through middle-school students.
In response to school closures caused by the pandemic, Starling started the learning center, where as many as 90 teachers at the height of the shutdown conducted online classes. Enhanced health and safety protocols were added , including investments in air-filtration systems and wall-mounted thermometers.
“Starling’s courageous staff was able to pivot and become not only nurturing caregivers, counselors and educators but also provide support for a virtual learning center when the public schools remained closed,” Goff said. “Starling’s heroes provide a safe place and continuity for children and peace of mind for working parents.”
The culture, Goff said, is joyful. “There are smiles on the faces of everyone because the staff loves the children and the work they do.”
Employees are cross-trained so they can be flexible and resilient, enabling them to switch from one job to another.
“Starling promotes respect, diversity and inclusion — and that is reflected in a staff who represent and speak all 23 languages of its students,” said Linnea Athey, director of operations. “Sensitivity training keeps staff members mindful of the delicate nature of balancing the needs of a diverse population.”
Employees celebrate milestones, including awards for as many as 25 years of service.
They are offered discounted child care rates, free meals and uniforms as well as training and educational opportunities at reduced tuition rates. This year through grants and internal financing, some employees received about 20% of their regular pay in bonuses.
Also this year, the company opened a Kids Food Tent, where packaged meals and fresh food products are available for free Monday through Friday noon to 2 p.m. — not only for children, teachers and parents but also to children through age 18 who live in Henrico.