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Palm Coast Monday, May 23, 2022 2 months ago

Not enough teachers: Early learning education industry in crisis

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Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia is stepping in to assist in recruiting teachers to the field.
by: Guest Writer

by: Jennifer Roberts

Back Porch Communications

Annette Pelham Freeman is an early childhood education director at her Tender Loving Daycare in Holly Hill. Each day she has an empty classroom — not from a lack of students but a teacher deficit.  

“I’m looking to hire at least two to three teachers,” explains Pelham Freeman. “We have a waiting list of students whose parents want to enroll them. But we don’t have enough teachers to meet the appropriate ratios.”

Sandra Perez’s 4-year-old son stays at home with grandma instead of going to VPK. Perez hasn’t been able to find a program with room to take him.

“I’ve tried about 15 different schools in the area,” explains Perez. “There are long waiting lists everywhere. I know he will not be ready for kindergarten in the fall. He has regressed with his speech and potty training for the time he has been out of school. I just don’t know what else to do for school for him while I am at work.”

Perez isn’t alone. Statistics from the Department of Education show that voluntary pre-kindergarten enrollment is down in Volusia County, and students aren’t prepared with the skills they need to succeed in kindergarten. VPK enrollment is down 8.1% in Volusia County, while in this current school year, 46% of five-year-olds didn't meet school readiness criteria for kindergarten. Similar ratios are also occurring in Flagler County, with VPK enrollment down 5.8% and 55% of five-year-olds don’t have the skills they need for kindergarten.  

“These gaps are significant for our community,” explains D.J. Lebo, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties. “The reality is we are talking about a significant dip in our children’s readiness to enter kindergarten. We must take action to get preschool teachers in classrooms, and that is exactly what we are working to do.”

The Early Learning Coalition was awarded an $895,370 grant from the state – one of the largest in recent memory - to directly address the need for preschool educators in the community. The Early Learning Coalition will work to recruit, retain, and upskill to strengthen the early education workforce.  

The grant will provide incentives, and financial assistance to new teachers and childcare center owners contracted with the coalition.  

The incentives for new teachers hired into the field include:

  • $500 cash bonus
  • $1,200 to spend on classroom supplies
  • Free early learning education 
  • Free support

Childcare center incentives include:

  • Reimbursement for all DCF training and background check expenses for new teachers
  • Reimbursement of the first four weeks of a new teacher’s salary
  • Free CPR and first aid training for new teachers
  • Personalized support for new teachers from the Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties.

The grant incentives are provided through individual childcare providers participating in the program with the Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties Inc.

“The Early Learning Coalition is looking for the right people to become early learning teachers,” said Lebo. “People who are kids at heart, who love to imagine and play, that have a deep love for young children. Those who want to be in a profession where they can really make a difference in the lives of children and our community are the right fit to be preschool teachers.” 

“In the early learning field, there are many opportunities to grow a career,” Pelham Freeman said. “This grant funding will help us attract more people to the field, which is very important. But this industry is about more than just a paycheck. We make a difference in the lives of children, and at the end of each day, we get a bonus you don’t find in other fields — we get paid in hugs and love.”  

To learn more about the grant program and the positions available with participating childcare centers and providers, visit www.elcfv.org/teach.

In addition to new teacher recruitment, the Early Learning Coalition is using grant funds to create a mentoring program called Director’s Academy for new childcare center directors. New directors are paired with experienced childcare director mentors. Both individuals will receive a $500 bonus for their participation in the six-month program. They each receive $1,000 to spend on classroom materials, online educational materials, and local support from the Early Learning Coalition.

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