Saturday, December 5, 2009

economic downturn hits home.

Next week is going to be a tough one. Our daycare/preschool is having to lay off some teachers. With the terrible state of the economy, the center is not fully enrolled, and we have more teachers than can be supported by the student fees. The center is run by a charity, the YMCA, and supported by the city too, but even so, funds are low and it is crunch time. Staff have been on 7 hr days for a while now to save money.

I'm on the parent steering committee for the school, and we found out about these plans just before Thanksgiving. The intention was for the layoff of four teachers to happen last week, on November 30th. The director called all parents individually to let them know, but for human recourse/liability reasons the teachers did not know. This seemed like an odd communication policy, but still we were glad to be informed in advance.  The steering committee rallied the parents and wrote an eloquent proposal to try and keep at least two of the positions by putting together an action team to increase enrollment. You see all of our teachers are wonderful, our kids love them. They work as a team to design and execute a great curriculum. It will be such a loss if any of them are let go. The YMCA director gave us a weeks grace to hear our concerns, but in the end it has made no difference.

The center is wonderful, but we feel underadvertized. They used to have a coporate partnership with a large biotech company, but what with this company opening its own on site care facility, and the contraction in the economy, the long waiting list of kids they have enjoyed for years dried up.  I got on the wait list with both of mine when I was about 4 months pregnant, and just squeaked them in when my maternity leave was up. They have never really had to market the place before. The website is very dull, and the emphasis is on daycare, which they do really well, rather than preschool, which they also do well, but it seems to float under the radar and not atrract parents seeking preschool, often a different set than those seeking group care for infants, since many people use a nanny for the early years then look for preschool when their children turn two or three.

The parent comittee met with the branch YMCA director on Thursday night, and she let us know that the layoffs had to proceed as planned this coming week. We are all rather angry that we didn't get more notice about the severity of the situation, as we feel that we could have turned things around. She has two kids in the center herself, so she is invested in keeping up the quality of teaching and care,  and she did help us realize that they had already put quite a lot of effort into increasing enrollment, and that maybe the environment was tougher than we realized. We had ideas that she didn't though, so she committed to working with us to promote the center to a broader community.

We are all on tenderhooks as to who will be dismissed. It seems the preschool will be hardest hit. California state ratios for 3yr olds are 1 teacher to 12 kids, and that is the ratio that our center is supposed to be staffed for, though it has rarely been that high. Our preschool is mixed age, three to five and a half. At the moment there are 30 kids and 5 teachers, divided into a class of 18 with three teachers and a class of 12 with two. This is a wonderfully low ratio which allows them to work with groups of 6 kids divided by age and ability. They plan on taking it back to 1:12.  We're worried that this will impact the teachers ability to work individually with the children, and will also be a lot of stress on the teachers. Ther are some spirited kids in the class (mine included), and they really benefit from the low staff to student ratio.

It is also going to break my daughters heart to lose any of her teachers, she loves them all so much, hugs them hello and goodbye every day. Teacher D. has taught her how to count in Spanish, teacher A. is teaching her to read short words already because she is so interested in reading and teacher G. knows how to diffuse her tantrums. Change is hard for Geekygirl, and it upsets me that she will be losing some of these very important people in her life. Geekyboy too is very tighly bonded to his beloved carers, and Geekydaddy and I value these people very highly. They take care of our children. I don't want them to dissappear from our lives. I hope that we can stay in touch, and plan on doing my utmost to help them find new jobs (and I hope that perhaps they will be able to babysit for us now, the center has a policy of not asking teachers to babysit!)

I suppose we have to live with it and move on. Times are hard for everyone. I'm heading up the marketing committee, and my first task is to gussy up the website. If you look at the current one it doesn't tell you much. You wouldn't look at this and know for example that we have:

A modern, light facility with large outdoor play yard
A highly credentialed staff and a history of good staff retention
An active parent community
Preschool for children who are not yet toilet trained
Enrichment programs like "tumble bus gymnastics" and "soccer shots" (and maybe also language programs, this is planned)
A lending library
A diverse student body and teaching staff
A video system so you can watch your kids remotely while you work.

 We're going to add this type of information, and pictures, examples of curriculum and activities, parent testimonials and teacher biographies. If you have a moment to let me know what you would like to see if your were looking for a preschool or daycare for your child, that would be very useful feedback. This is  a fantastic place for a child to learn grow, whether you are a full time working parent, or an at home parent who wants their child in a preschool, and we want to be able to showcase it. Maybe we will be able to bring back some of our beloved teachers, and bring more kids into our little family.

I'm hoping the future will be brighter, but I am not looking forward to next week.


followthatdog said...

That is miserable. I know the economy impacted Ansel's child care center too. I know this because after having him on the wait list from something close to 2.5 years, I was able to get a spot with almost no notice when Mr. Dog went back to work. This is partly due to us already being on the wait list, but also because the wait list shrunk dramatically as people went from dual income families to single income and families had to pull out of child care to cover their expenses.
It is tragic that a quality center in such a densely populated area has let their marketing slide and put themselves into this situation. That website is pretty bad, doesn't give any indication how nice the facility is and really doesn't do much to draw people in. A link to something explaining Reggio Emila philosophy might help sell it too. It is a great movement in child education, but many people don't know it by name. I hope you are able to get things turned around in this and get those teachers back. Sorry you are forced to deal with this, it must be so difficult.

A Modern Mother said...

That's really hard, especially since they are so settled. Good luck with your marketing. Your right about the web site -- that is the first point of call to get info. Maybe even have them start a blog? (for SEO)

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