A group of parents whose children attended Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre’s Sage program are asking why they weren’t given more advanced notice of the immediate closure of the facility last week.
Citing chronically inadequate staffing levels, PCCELC chairwoman Christy Gustavison, in an Oct. 25 letter to parents and staff, said the decision wasn’t made lightly.
“We know this announcement has a tremendous impact on all of you, as well as on the community,” she wrote.
“It’s something we’ve been dealing with for a while, trying to keep staff, and keep things going,” Mayor Don Anderberg, a member of the board, told Shootin’ the Breeze, a day after the announcement.
“It’s a highly regulated situation by the province and Children’s Services, and trying to operate at required staff levels has been difficult. It got to the point where it was undoable.”
Kyla Shackel, whose daughter, Sophie, had been attending the daycare program, said it has left her and other parents scrambling to find alternatives. “We just got an email late Wednesday and that was it. No calls. No nothing. And staff, the same thing,” she said.
“We did reach out a few times to the board, to management, but were never brought into the loop. We even asked if we could have a parent on the board but were told that would be a conflict of interest.”
Kyla says requests to attend board meetings and ask questions were also turned down. There were even appeals made, she said, of parents putting on a fundraiser, in light of rumoured struggles.
“We’ve had chronic inadequate staffing levels and, at the same time, the licensing body [Ministry of Children and Family Services] has flagged us because of those inadequate staffing levels,” the board’s chairwoman pointed out in a followup interview with Shootin’ the Breeze.
“It’s been a struggle for us to recruit and maintain a level of supervision required by the licensing body. In the end, it was a very difficult decision to make, and our hearts are with our families and staff.”
Likewise, the mayor said he understands the impact the closure will have on nearly 40 families who use the facility.
“We’re probably running at about 65 per cent capacity because we don’t have enough people [staff] to operate the facility,” he said.
“I don’t understand why they didn’t bring this forth with parents,” Kyla questioned.
“Why they couldn’t have pared down with the last children they accepted, have said, ‘I’m sorry we don’t have room for you right now,’ as opposed to letting everybody go.”
Sonja Rowland, another parent, has a three-year-old son who also went to the Sage facility.
“Both my husband and I work full time and, like most of the parents [who use the centre], we’re a dual-income family,” she said.
“It really throws a wrench into us really being able to go to work every day. Luckily, we were able to find a day home for the time being.”
However, with limited options, many families may not have the same success, Sonja acknowledged.
“Other parents, I’ve heard, are using their sick days and vacation time in the short term,” she said.
“We moved here in 2017, had our son in 2020, and at that time, we were thinking this is amazing — they have a maternity ward at the hospital, amazing nurses and doctors here, and they just opened up these brand new daycare centres. How perfect for a young family.”
As families struggle to make ends meet, she wonders if that might be a game changer that prompts young families in the community to want to leave or that prevents new families from coming.
Staff members, whose futures are also in limbo with this decision, have contacted Shootin’ the Breeze, concerned not only with the loss of their jobs, but also with the future direction of the daycare, were it to reopen. They wished to remain anonymous, concerned that speaking out may result in not being hired back.
In an email to publisher Shannon Peace, they wrote: “[The staff] do not want to appear ungrateful towards Sage, the board, and our community. We enjoy this job and the phenomenal opportunity we have to raise up the next generation. However, the direction we have been steered towards, obviously, has not led to a fruitful path.”
In one situation, employees said, management was urged repeatedly to train new staff members, with two educators returning to college in the fall, to have replacements in place and trained for a smooth transition.
“Instead of bringing in new hires to get acquainted with the children, routines, and best practices, and allow for a smooth transition for departing staff, the centre was left in quite a bit of chaos going into the school year,” the email said.
Staff contend that prior to the closure, Sage had enough staff for the number of children enrolled.
“Of the eight educators, five had their Level 1 [allowing them to be left alone with children], three were not levelled, two of these being part time, and the other, a one-on-one. Of the five levelled staff, two were considered part time or rarely came in,” the email went on to say.
“We hope the closure leads to a greener pasture, one of longevity and joy for the families. We hope to be welcomed back and we can pick up where we left off! We love our community and the families we serve!”
Indications are the closure is only temporary, described by Mayor Anderberg as a way for the board to step back and reset.
While no timeline has been given for a possible reopening of the McDougall Street location, the partner site next to Canyon School remains open. The Canyon Creek location is at capacity, however, and had a long waiting list even before last week’s closure at Sage.