Teachers urge solutions to keep Tiger Cub Child Care Center open

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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The Albert Lea Education Association and teachers of children who utilize Tiger Cub Child Care Center spoke out Tuesday about the importance of the day care center for teacher retention and concerns about a child care shortage in the community.

The statements came as the district in January announced it would close the center at the end of the school year because of increasing revenue-expense shortfalls. The child care center is on the first floor of Brookside Education Center and has been open since the spring of 2020. It is licensed to serve up to 44 children at a time — district officials said about half of the children served are children of district staff, while the other half are children of other families in the community.

Anna Westcott, an elementary teacher who has worked in the district for 13 years, said her son is currently enrolled in Tiger Cub Child Care and noted that her family was one of the first to utilize the program when it opened in 2020. She said this was after being on many waiting lists for over a year with her daughter and having to rely on non-licensed child care in order to stay in Albert Lea.

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“It was important to me that I stayed here because I felt like Albert Lea valued its teachers,” Westcott said.

She said she and her husband knew a day care was in the works because it was initially presented to the school board in 2018 and decided to stick around knowing they would no longer have to worry about finding child care.

She noted how disheartening it was to learn about the closure of the child care center in the newspaper and said it left families in a state of uncertainty and distress.

“Albert Lea struggles with child care — it’s hard to find child care — and now we’re faced with many long waiting lists,” she said.

She noted the decision also has broader implications to the district as many teachers also serve as coaches and mentors and asked the board to think about its newly passed strategic plan and the district’s commitment to staff retention.

Kristin Kyllo, who is also an elementary teacher, said she was speaking as a concerned parent in the hopes of sincere dialogue about the decision.

She said she felt like there was a lack of due diligence in the process leading to the announcement about the closure, and while it’s evident that steps are being taken now to find a solution, she asked why those steps weren’t taken prior to the decision to close.

“The sudden announcement of its closure has left many families including my own feeling unsettled and uncertain about our future,” Kyllo said. “Moving forward, I urge the board and administration to engage in transparent communication and collaboration with parents, educators and community members.”

She said she was confident that with open dialogue they could find a solution that upholds the values and priorities of the district.

Amy Stiehl, a middle school teacher, also spoke about the importance of collaboration and finding solutions. She said many people rely on Tiger Cub to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children while they work, and she believes they can come together to explore alternative solutions to keep the center operational.

Stiehl said she was a direct result of being in the district because of the child care center. She had formerly been in the Twin Cities, but after she and her husband had their first child they considered moving down to Albert Lea where their lake house is. The child care center was one of the big draws of them coming to the community.

Anne Jerdee, who spoke as a teacher representative from the Albert Lea Education Association, read a statement from the executive council of the association in support of the child care center.

The statement said the association believes that maintaining accessible and high quality child care services is essential to retaining staff and attracting quality educators.

She asked the board to prioritize the preservation of the Tiger Cub center and said it was essentially for maintaining the high reputation of the schools in the district.

Superintendent Ron Wagner acknowledged those who spoke at the meeting and said he appreciated their voice.

No other discussion took place at the meeting about the subject.

In an email on Wednesday Albert Lea Community Education Executive Director John Double said the district is continuing to look at options as it moves forward.

“Our belief is to be fiscally responsible and to work in collaboration with the city of Albert Lea to solve the need for child care in our city,” Double said.