EAGLE CORNER: Schools working to ‘fix’ local child care issue

By DEBORAH HARMAN, guest columnist

In her series “Child care is broken. It’s up to us to fix it,” Brown County Community Foundation Chief Executive Officer Maddison Miller could not be more on point.

She reported that in 2020 Brown County’s capacity to provide child care to families in need of those services fell short by approximately 472 seats. That is a significant deficit. However, as a program administrator for Brown County Schools, I experience yet another piece of our child care system that is equally “broken.”

The recruitment and retention of credentialed early childhood teachers is remarkably difficult. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics the employment of preschool teachers is projected to grow 18% over the next ten years, 10% faster than most other professions. This means that unless we do something, the labor crisis will make creating more child care seats a pointless endeavor.

Simply put, without teachers we cannot fill classrooms. Consider a recent example of the seriousness of this issue within our elementary school preschool programs. In June 2021, Brown County Schools had five of six preschool teacher positions open and five of six preschool paraprofessional positions open. In order to maintain our required preschool classroom ratio of one teacher to 10 students, we started the 2021-2022 school year sharing staff among schools for weeks until positions were filled. It was not ideal, but the only other option would have been to close classrooms.

If having enough credentialed staff is a barrier to creating more childcare seats, what is the solution?

If we simply advertise increased program capacity, will we struggle to hire enough staff to operate our programs? The answer is ‘yes’ unless we do something. Why are so few candidates applying for our positions? Are we casualties of the nation’s early childhood teacher shortage? These questions and others point to the need for a local staffing solution that we can oversee and manage.

Like Miller said “Child care is broken. It’s up to us to fix it.” We began looking at the individuals who have applied for our openings and been hired over the course of the school year. And who do you think we saw? We saw our own Brown County High School graduates who had earned their child care development associate (CDA) credential upon high school graduation. We saw parents of our children, some with a CDA and others pursuing an associate’s degree in early childhood education. We saw our retired teachers and support staff willing to return to work in a completely new capacity just to assure that preschool classrooms remained open for families.

Moving ahead with the mindset, “It’s up to us to fix it,” Brown County High School will be launching the Next Level Program of Study courses in early childhood education beginning fall 2022.

There are three courses in the program sequence. The first course titled “Principles of Early Childhood Education” is a two trimester course and will be taught at the new Brown County Early Education Center (formerly Brown County Intermediate School) located on the Brown County Schools main campus. The second course in the program’s sequence titled “Early Childhood Education Curriculum” is a year-long course taught in the same location. The third course in the progression is also year-long taught at the Early Education Center and is titled “Early Childhood Education Guidance.”

High school students in the early education program of study will gain understanding of early childhood development and principles of learning as the foundation for careers in early childhood education, child care, psychology, social work, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, developmental pediatrics, pediatric nursing and, of course, entrepreneurship — just to name a few.

We feel sure that some students participating in the early childhood education Next Level Program of Study will choose to stay in Brown County and work for us as they launch their careers. Or perhaps begin their own local child care business in partnership with a church or other service oriented organization.

We need families to have options. Growing local talent through an early childhood education program of study could be a high school graduate’s first step into a long and fulfilling career as a teacher or small business owner within our community or region.

The Brown County Early Education Center, located at 260 South Schoolhouse Lane, will be looking for a lead preschool teacher, lead toddler teacher and multiple paraprofessionals for the 2022-2023 school year. Candidates for lead teacher positions with an associate’s degree in early childhood education will be given top priority with in our interview process. Candidates with their child development associate (CDA) credentials will be considered for other open preschool teacher positions in our elementary schools. Paraprofessional applicants are most welcome and will be hired based on their interest in working with young children and experience assisting within a child-centered setting.

Brown County Schools would like to thank Miller for her outstanding organizational leadership and support for all early learning initiatives in Brown County. Yes, child care may be broken right now, but collectively we are committed to fixing it!

Deborah Harman is the director of student support services for Brown County Schools. She can be reached at [email protected].