Before the beginning of the school year, we issued a simple annual school calendar for the 2021-2022 academic school year (August 2021 – May 2022). This calendar was to give you a basic expectation for school events, closures and holidays observed, so you could begin planning for family events, alternative care if needed, and set certain academic periods (assessments, graduations, etc.). As the health departments and licensing agencies had not yet fully determined what restrictions licensed early childhood education centers would be required to comply with at the time of this initial calendar’s issuance, it was necessarily broad on what specific dates and locations would be for certain events and recognitions we traditionally have held pre-COVID.
As our school year began, and agencies that regulate our operations have provided more clarity, we have been able to adjust our plans and schedule certain events, trainings, and school celebrations with more detail. With the October 2021 newsletter that was issued via Procare on October 29th, I included a more robust 12-month calendar which incorporated both the school closure and special event dates that we had already identified for the 2021-22 school year. These dates have not changed, as well as to provide all parents with specific dates future planning for school events and closures in 2022.
In addition to sending out the calendar with the monthly newsletter, I have asked school leadership to continue to send out the calendar as an attachment on weekly newsletters sent from each Director, so as to provide further opportunity for parents to view, print and save this more explanatory and precise calendar.
With the exception of one additional school closure day (April 18), the school closures remain the same for the balance of this school year. In lieu of closing for the entire week between Christmas and New Years as we had last year, we have added one day during the winter holidays during which time we will be open, and moved one of the closure days to April, to give our teachers a much-needed long weekend following a very long work stretch between President’s Day and Staff Appreciation/Awards Day in May.
All of us are well aware of the severe staffing crisis in our city, state and country. Service-based industries, such as our schools, have been hit particularly hard as many workers have found alternative work opportunities during the pandemic, or have encountered personal situations that require them to have more flexibility in their work life than a traditional, in person, five day per week teaching position requires.
In an effort to stay ahead of the crisis, I have taken dramatic and significant steps over the past 18 months to retain as many of our staff as possible through multiple pay increases, hazard pay, increased benefit packages, increasing 401K matching, free tuition, retention bonuses, COLA increases, entering into agreements with the DOL to enable teachers to benefit from stimulus benefits, flexible scheduling, substitute teacher pay, housing assistance, utilities assistance, food assistance, medical bill assistance and many other methods to encourage our dedicated teachers to remain with us. I did all of this without asking for anything other than the customary tuition increase we have maintained for the past decade. Of course, the costs to deploy all of these benefits was far in excess of the tuition increase charged in August. I’m hopeful (and counting on) some relief through the many state and federal stimulus plans that have yet to be disbursed to child care providers.
We survey and conduct exit interviews of each staff member who departs from us. Most of those who are choosing to leave us are changing career fields, pursuing a pathway that allows for more flexibility, family time, and the ability to have more control over their lives. Without a doubt, the single greatest factor in leaving their teaching position is burnout, stress and feeling overworked without time to care for themselves emotionally and physically. As a year-round school, our teachers don’t get the opportunity to have long summers or winter breaks, extended spring breaks, “in common release” days, “minimum/no-contact” days or other opportunities common to the teaching field to prepare, train, collaborate with others, decompress and enjoy family breaks during traditional holiday periods.
With the upcoming universal preschool that will come to Colorado in the next couple of years, we are already feeling the pressure and competition of the work life balance our teachers feel is afforded to them in the public school system. While our teachers must meet rigorous pre-classroom training and educational requirements, it is possible to work in Colorado public schools as a long-term substitute with a GED, and far less pre-work training and obligations as are required of early childhood educators. Knowing we have many “competitors” for our talented work force, I have taken a keen interest in, and dedication to meeting wherever possible, the needs of our dedicated staff. The most desired additional benefits our teachers have universally asked for are additional school release days, staff meetings that are held and finish earlier than 6:30 pm, and training days that are not held on holidays when their own children are off from school, and they have nowhere to send their children during our training.
This is the background in to why, as a school community, my leadership teams, teachers and I decided to add a few training days, early release days and mental health days in the upcoming school year calendar for 2022. We were careful to plan these days during typical federal and state holidays, or other traditionally recognized school holidays, so as to provide minimal disruption to our students and families. We implemented a couple of early release days so that our staff could attend mandatory training at staff meetings at the end of a school day without having to bring along their young children, or pay for a babysitter to watch them.
I have heard from some parents who have expressed concerns over the additional days listed in the calendar for 2022. I’m hopeful that this explanation, as well as the substantial time to prepare for these days, helps to clarify the reasoning behind making these adjustments. I’ve also heard from parents and many staff who are elated as to the modifications to our calendar. We are a school, not a daycare, and in order to be the premier school that affords your children with the care and education deserved, we must treat our staff as the professionals they are – through training, professional development, collaboration, classroom preparation, assessment and conference planning, and possibly most importantly, understanding the need to care for themselves with a few wellbeing days.
It’s important to note that I’ve spent over a year looking at options that might enable us to reduce the amount of time our school is closed. We already offer a very robust personal time off accrual for our staff. When our staff take time off, licensing requirements still mandate that we have a qualified Early Childhood Teacher and Assist in our classrooms. Even though we are accelerating and paying for our teachers to obtain these qualifications, they take time to achieve (time away from work), and require that we find or hire substitutes to fill in for our staff to take vacation or personal time off. Offering a rotating PTO or 4-day workweek, while attractive in concept, are unworkable as we must still staff our school with the same level of qualified staff, regardless of the circumstances or duration of their absence. Because we don’t require our families to reserve time, we must staff for full attendance every single day, in the event students arrive, so we also cannot plan for reduced staffing to allow some classrooms to hold training/meetings on certain days.
As the current Chairperson for the Primrose Schools Advisory Council, representing more than 450 Primrose Schools across the country, I’ve been given the opportunity to meet firsthand with the Primrose executive team on a monthly basis, seeking out solutions such as a teacher scheduling app that would integrate with ProCare (our database management system), and brainstorming other solutions that may provide creative solutions using technology and modern thinking.
Throughout the past 18 months, we’ve all had to learn how to be resilient, adaptable and resourceful in order to stay on top of this massive tidal wave. While many of the other early childhood options have elected to handle the challenges differently, including severely reducing operating hours, closing classrooms and turning back children, or limiting attendance to a “first-come, first-served” scenario, I’m very honored that, throughout it all, we’ve remained open every day, we’ve had minimal disruptions for state-mandated isolation/quarantine, and we’ve been able to continue to serve you and your children with consistent, reliable and exceptional care and education. We wouldn’t be in this position without the support and dedication of everyone – including each of YOU – to work together to get through this unprecedented time.
I thank you for your time, your trust, and your partnership as we serve the most important gift given to us – the future in our hands. This was a very lengthy communication; but due to the nature of the comments we’ve received, I felt a detailed explanation would be most productive in shedding light on the many factors at play.
I welcome your feedback, ideas and expressions of frustration, gratitude or otherwise. The best way to get to a quick resolution is through our Roots to Resolution landing page, but you’re always welcome to reach out to me, or any member of our school leadership team.