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Tag: Christy Gustavison

Early Learning Centre board member Coun. Mark Barber, chair Christy Gustavison, executive director Ola Crook, Sage site director Stacey Madden, and board vice-chair and mayor Don Anderberg.

Sage reopens, emphasizing the importance of child care

The community was taken by surprise when Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre’s Sage location faced a sudden closure last October due to chronic understaffing, but as the daycare is bouncing back, the board is emphasizing the crucial need for child care in Pincher Creek.

“It’s definitely an essential service,” says Mayor Don Anderberg, who is also vice-chair on the board of directors for the Pincher Creek Community Early Learning Centre. “When we had to shut down here we certainly heard that loud and clear.”

While some have questioned the need for investment in child care, Anderberg believes it is essential for attracting and keeping professionals in Pincher Creek, especially since the typical modern family dynamic has shifted from one wage earner to two.

“Community can’t do without it,” he says.

The Sage and Canyon Creek early learning centres both opened in 2020. They were introduced when the town saw an emerging need for child care after the closure of Children’s World Daycare downtown. The new facilities were deliberately placed near the community’s two elementary schools.

The Town of Pincher Creek and the MD of Pincher Creek each contributed to the capital costs of the construction of Sage, and the Town of Pincher Creek continues to support the its operation.


Ad for Shadowbar Shepherds Training in Pincher Creek


“Investments in child care return us between four and seven dollars for every dollar invested in child care,” says PCCELC board chair Christy Gustavison. “It offers a tremendous value to the residents of the area.”

This return, she says, is brought back to the town through direct employment of daycare staff, as well as facilitating employment of parents.

“Whether we’re trying to recruit teachers or health-care workers or business owners, it’s an amenity that many families require now, and so to be able to offer that is really unique for a small town,” says Gustavison.

The importance of the child-care centre was certainly felt by the community when Sage was closed and many families were left scrambling for care alternatives.

“As hard as it was to make the decision to shut down and reset here in this facility, that may have been the best education for the community that we could have had because it spread out there pretty fast,” says Anderberg, describing how workplaces across town and schools were all impacted by the closure.

“From council’s perspective, it’s gone from how much this is cost to ‘We gotta take care of people, the No. 1 thing is taking care of the kids,’ ” he says.

To the board, closing and resetting was important to offer the best child care possible.


Ad for Ascent Dental in Pincher Creek


When the centre first opened, there was no window for orientation or for the educators to become comfortable with the space. Trouble hiring and retaining staff prevented the facility from operating smoothly, and several code violations occurred.

“We were responsible for children and it was too much of a liability to continue the way we were,” says Gustavison.

“The reset was a nice way for everyone to just really start off on a really good foot,” says Sage’s executive director, Ola Crook.

Since the closure, Stacey Madden has been hired as centre director. Crook says Madden brings a beautiful vibe of positivity and knowledge to the daycare.

“My biggest vision is the harmony,” says Madden. “To see our teachers and our children within the program all being like a community.”

One of her ideas for achieving this community feel is having older kids read to and help out with younger children, to give them a sense of citizenship and responsibility within the centre.

Sage continues to look for educators, especially those specializing in the care of young babies. Staff make between $18.64 and $30.62 an hour, depending on experience and education, with benefits and an additional training incentive.

“We believe in investing in our employees to invest in our children,” says Gustavison.


Pincher Creek Early Learning Centre Staff are eager to welcome kids back to Sage child-care centre on a better foot.

Pincher Creek Early Learning Centre Staff are eager to welcome kids back to Sage child-care centre on a better foot.

Photo by Mia Parker


Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.


In order to keep child care available and the centre operating smoothly, Sage has to run a deficit, losing about $300 per child per month.

While Sage receives some funding from the province through the affordability grant, the board has been advocating for better funding, highlighting the significance of rural access to child care.

As federal and provincial partners work towards $10-a-day daycare, the money to pay the difference in costs should be coming from higher levels, according to Anderberg, but is instead being subsidized by the town.

The board has been trying to meet with the provincial minister of children and family services through local MLA Chelsae Petrovic but hasn’t had much luck.

Petrovic did not respond to Shootin’ the Breeze’s emailed questions within the two-week window provided.

Gustavison notes that while there have been some small improvements provincially, like offsetting some administrative costs, this remains an example of downloading the costs of providing services to municipalities.

Nevertheless, child care remains an important investment for Pincher Creek.

“If we know anything about the early years and brain development, these are the most significant years in a child’s life,” says Crook. “If we can invest in our children, then that just builds your community.”


Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.


Sophie Shackel – young girl with long light-brown hair.

Pincher Creek’s ELC closes Sage child-care facility

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.