School Views: Addressing the need for more early childhood services
There was a recent story in the Vail Daily about a local preschool program shuttering its doors. Pooh Corner, an early learning center in Minturn, had been operating for over 30 years and was forced to close due to ongoing staffing issues. The high cost of living in our community makes staff recruitment and retention extremely difficult in all sectors.
Pooh Corner operated independently in a school district-owned building, and we are actively looking at options to keep the facility open as a preschool facility. We have had other independent providers contact us about the space and will continue to explore all available options.
Currently, Eagle County School District’s early childhood centers are at or near capacity. At the east end, Red Sandstone Elementary School and Homestake Peak School both house early learning classrooms that are at capacity. Edwards Early Learning Center’s infant and toddler rooms are both full. We were able to re-open two preschool classes there this year, which has allowed for some additional space for that age group. However, waitlists across the valley continue to build. Our last updated numbers reflected 40 infants and 86 toddlers on waitlists for these programs.
At the west end of the valley, the situation is even more serious. When the state implemented the Universal Preschool program this year, it guaranteed preschool for all 4-year-olds for 15-20 hours per week, but we still have some families in our community who are not being served. We had 40 families that were either waitlisted or were denied a Universal Preschool opportunity in the school district due to space, funding limitations, or transportation issues.
At the infant and toddler levels, 40 and 49 students are on the waitlist respectively.
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Eagle County School District is committed to taking the necessary steps forward to address concerns both up and down the valley in order to provide families with the services they need.
This November, the school district placed a bond question on the ballot (5B) that would help fund a Gypsum Early Learning Center to increase preschool capacity at the west end of the valley. The bond would also support affordable housing at the same location in Gypsum. The bond would also allow the district to complete the renovation of the second floor of the Edwards Early Learning Center to create additional preschool capacity at the east end of the valley.
Eagle County School District understands the priorities and needs of our community. We will continue to find creative ways to address the issues we face in order to best serve the youth and families of Eagle County. Remember to register to vote and educate yourself before casting your ballot. Our commitment to serving the families and students of Eagle County will not waiver, and we will work hard to provide quality education for all age groups.
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County School District. Email him at email@example.com.