Closing of Sunshine House in Boulder shows issues for preschools in Colorado
The last day of the Sunshine House Montessori Preschool in Boulder Thursday will include a pinata and celebration for the last day of school for the year. But it will also mean cracking open a lot of issues that go along with the end of a 38 year run and what's going on with preschools in Colorado.
"It was the only school in the area where kids were thriving," said mom Urszula Clemins.
Her son Theo loved the Sunshine House school so much, when he went on to kindergarten at Flatirons Elementary School nextdoor last fall, he would show up at the fence that divides the two.
"Because he can come over and talk to Miss Monica, it was the highlight of his first two months in a big school," said Clemins.
"This year was just so hard," said director Monica Hebein.
She is retiring after starting at the school in the early 90s. It was hard to find staff.
"I just realized it was time to retire."
But that led to another problem: finding a new director. They simply could not.
"Finding a director is also very difficult. And that's also one of the main reasons that the school is closing is that the owner was not able to find a director."
Pre-K instructors and directors have to meet state requirements for early childhood education. Paperwork has increased. Last year, when seeking to use glass in the classroom for a lesson, Hebein described a waiver she had to fill out that ran dozens of pages.
"A lot of regulations. A lot of kind of nitpicky stuff about playgrounds and things like that. Like I think that swings are very important. It's getting harder and harder to have swings on the playground."
They still do, but with 8 inches of resilient undersurface. It has brought up discussions about what they do.
"One other director said that when she's in the office she just wants to leave, but when she's with the kids she just never wants it to end."
The school had a decline in enrollment from 29 before COVID to 16 this year.
The cost of living in Boulder is certainly a part of staffing issues. Lead teacher Caitlin Loughrey doesn't even live in town.
"I travel from Fort Collins down here every day just because I do like working with Monica and all the other teachers and the children," said Loughrey.
She is heading back to school for her Master's degree in K-12 education. Meantime other preschools are calling Monica to see if there is any staff they can hire.
There is a change happening in Colorado that also has contributed. Colorado is about to start up its offering of Universal Pre-K education. Monica decided not to seek to become a provider, which would mean up to $6000 in tuition covered by the state.
"I think we lost of a couple of families because we weren't able to do universal pre-school because we don't have the administration."
It would have taken her away from the classroom.
"That would have been another administrative thing that I would have had to do. And I, we're a small school. I don't have any administrative assistant. As you can see I'm in the classroom for children as well as a director."
She fears that many smaller providers may be in the same boat.
"I'm just afraid that a lot of the small preschools aren't going to be able to handle it and go the way of Sunshine House unfortunately."
In response to our questions, the state's Department of Early Childhood sent a statement saying in part, "We also recognize a new program means new processes for providers. Local coordinating organizations (LCOs) are locally aligned to support these processes."
As to the additional work added to enable participation as a provider in the program, the department replied:
"While providers must create profiles within the enrollment portal to provide details about their programs and the spots they have available for families, which is admittedly a new system for many providers, we don't believe it is too great a burden. In fact, more than 20,000 children were matched to 1,928 participating providers in the first round of matching in UPK Colorado."
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