NEW ROSS — South Montgomery Community School Corp. is exploring the creation of a child care center at Walnut Elementary School, the district has confirmed.
The potential center — which would be operated separately from the school — could provide another option for families seeking a high-quality early childhood program. But rumblings of the possible addition left parents wondering if there’s enough room in a building that already houses a growing preschool.
Responding to a parent’s questions during Monday’s school board meeting, board president Brad Monts stressed that the center is still a concept. The board says it will only give approval if no additional space is taken up at Walnut and the center has its own director, who would also oversee the pre-K program, called Little Mountie Preschool.
An August report from nonprofit Early Learning Indiana found that just 6.5% of children in Montgomery County were enrolled in high-quality early childhood care, defined as a program achieving the two highest levels in the state’s child care rating system. At the same time, child care centers are struggling to attract workers. Recent government data show the low-paying industry is having more trouble than restaurants in hiring.
This summer, as part of a coalition led by the Montgomery County Community Foundation to address high-quality child care access, district officials visited the Lewis Cass Early Learning Academy, which is housed at a school district in Cass County.
South Montgomery saw that approach as a concept that could open more child care seats to local families. Greiner said Walnut was selected for the potential center because it already houses a high-quality preschool and has open classroom space.
“We want to develop a model so that others do the same thing, but we’ve got something that’s good for our families here,” Greiner said at the board meeting.
The district has applied for a $100,000 grant from Early Learning Indiana to help start a center. Recipients will be announced by early next month. MCCF contributed $50,000 toward the project.
Parent Maggie Woods, who has two children attending Walnut, praised the efforts to find a solution for improving child care access, but said the issue can’t “simply be solved by a ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach,” due to staffing issues. She also raised concerns about the preschool taking resources from the rest of the students as it expands.
Monts said the preschool has benefited families, but acknowledged that “we’ve lost some focus in our K through 5” grades at Walnut.
The district also offers a preschool class at New Market Elementary.
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