Red brick

Kids First, a city agency that works with childcare providers at the Yellow Brick building, is looking to increase its teacher-training capacity, in response to a childcare crunch that is influenced by the tight labor market, as well as a shortage of classroom space.

 A local childcare-capacity crunch is driven by limited physical space and the ability to recruit and retain quality staff. While the city of Aspen and its Kids First department work on long-term solutions to the classroom-space shortage, staff is proposing that Kids First create a new-teacher training position to address the personnel question.

  A memo to the mayor and city council released last week from Shirley Ritter, Kids First director, proposes adding a second teacher position to her office. The position, which Ritter said has been around for about 18 years, rolls over every year and involves classroom leadership training and serving as a substitute teacher for the various childcare programs housed in the city’s Yellow Brick building.

“Ultimately the staff in the Kids First teacher positions are successful applicants for senior roles in child care centers throughout the Roaring Fork Valley,” says Ritter’s memo.

At a work session last month, council members took a pass on proposals to add more classroom space in the existing building by cutting into the gym and staff offices, while asking staff to fast track long-term projects to create more classrooms elsewhere. The staffing issue repeatedly came up at the meeting as an impediment to any expansion plans.

 “While the community works toward a solution for the physical space, staff heard council direction at the Aug. 20 work-session to develop a plan that addresses the workforce need for increased capacity,” the memo says. Expanding the teacher-training program seemed like effective step the organization could take, Ritter said.

Adding a second Kids First teacher position would cost roughly $77,000 a year, according to the memo. At the end of the year, the person would have completed all state licensing requirements to assume a classroom leadership role. It would also provide an additional substitute teacher steeped in the philosophy of early childhood education.

Ritter emphasized that staff is hard to find for childcare centers.

“During this tight hiring market, we have seen the childcare programs (and other businesses) have more difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified staff,” her memo says. “As we began to think about ways to grow the early childhood workforce to meet the need for childcare capacity, the idea of an early childhood teacher who could gain experience by acting as a substitute in the programs and getting classes, training and coaching at the same time seems a good fit.” 

Kids First is waiting for council’s decision on the budget request, expected by November, to fund the position for 2020 and beyond before hiring anyone. But Ritter said recruitment efforts will begin soon, on the understanding that they would cease if the appropriation is not supported. Finding the right person will take time, she noted.

“Kids First staff has varied and deep experience and credentials to provide the training and coaching. This would also provide a high-quality foundational experience for a person who is motivated to remain and advance in the early childhood profession,” the memo says. 

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.