Staff shortage reaches breaking point for Montessori school

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July 2—After 33 years of operation, the need for teachers and caregivers is greater than it has ever been at Cheshire County Montessori School in Keene.

“As things stand, we couldn’t stay open if we didn’t get help,” said Julianna Dodson, Montessori parent, board member and Chesterfield resident.

Members of the 28 Hurricane Road school, which serves about 30 families from across the county and beyond, are trying to raise awareness of those needs, in an effort to stay open. The school caters for children from 16 months to 6 years old through its nine-month academic programs and summer camp.

Currently, there are eight staff vacancies and four board positions, Dodson said, an unprecedented number. She said they were looking for two home teachers, four assistant teachers, an administrative manager and an office assistant.

Kathy Glimenakis of Keene, lead toddler program teacher, said the school had been experiencing a staff shortage for about three years, and that was exacerbated in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. The school closed for five months and reopened in August, but some teachers did not return, she said. And over the next two years, others have retired or left.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has brought increased responsibilities, she noted. Teachers should disinfect classrooms, wipe down surfaces, cover other teachers who may be sick, and self-quarantine if they feel unwell.

Glimenakis, a founding member of the school and a teacher for 25 years, said that due to a shortage of caregivers, the Montessori school is unable to accommodate more children, leaving families in need of child care on a waiting list.

Lisa Scott of Keene, the primary primary teacher, said it was hard to realize that with fewer teachers they cannot help as many families.

“We are unable to give what the parents need because we don’t have enough bodies available,” she said.

It also leaves less time for her and assistant elementary teachers to prepare the class for learning each morning, she added.

“We need everyone on deck,” she said.

Katie Kurowski, co-chair of the board, wrote in an email to The Sentinel on Friday that the staffing shortage could have dire consequences for the school.

“If we are unable to retain and hire the staff we need, we are faced with the decision to close permanently, which is a devastating thought for everyone in our community,” Kurowski said.

Due to added stressors for teachers and rising energy costs, Julianna Dodson, whose daughter, Avonlea, 3, attends the Montessori school, said the school is trying to offer a higher salary . This, in turn, increases tuition fees for parents, which creates a difficult cycle.

In the past, the school may have seen a tuition increase of around 3%, but for the 2022-23 year, the school has increased the price by 6%, according to Dodson.

Kurowski wrote in his email that the average cost for a five-day program would be about $1,000 per month, about $50 more than current tuition.

“We know this increase is not easy for families as everything increases in cost, but we believe it is necessary to retain staff and maintain the school’s success,” she wrote.

Dodson, deputy executive director of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship and director of Radically Rural — a partnership between the center and The Sentinel — said the shortage of childcare staff is not unique to the Montessori school.

The sector has lost nearly 120,000 jobs nationwide since February 2020, according to a June report from the Center for the Study of Childcare Employment. And last summer, 80% of child care providers said they were experiencing staff shortages, according to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. A majority of respondents cited low wages as the reason.

The national average hourly wage for child care providers is $13.31 and the average salary is $27,680, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kurowski said the Montessori school has been in contact with the education departments at River Valley Community College and Keene State to seek out any resources they may have and has also contacted the Child Care Licensing Unit. children’s center for counseling and financial assistance.

Dodson urged people to check the school’s vacancies list to see if they, or someone they know, might be interested. Anyone wanting more information about positions on the board can contact mshocc.board@gmail.com. She also encouraged anyone with a personal connection to Montessori to share their stories at mshocc@gmail.com.

The school will host an open house on July 21 from 5 to 6:30 p.m., featuring tours of facilities, food, live music, and applications for vacancies.

Because of the service it provides, Glimenakis said the school has established strong bonds with local families.

They include NH Rep. Donovan Fenton. The vice president of Fenton Family Dealerships in Swanzey, Fenton and his wife, Jackie, have two boys, Harrison, 3, and Cooper, 1. Harrison is enrolled in Montessori daycare, but the Keene couple are on a list of 16 month wait for Cooper. .

Due to the limited availability of child care, Fenton said his wife had to quit her job teaching behavioral needs at Symonds Elementary School, which limited their income.

“The issue needs to be addressed immediately to help those with children who are affected by this crisis,” he said.

He said there was something special about Montessori and his teachers.

“There’s a community there,” he said. “When the teachers are your neighbors or your friends, it’s so cool.”

Kurowski, who moved with his family to Keene from New York in 2019, said in an email that Montessori was a vital resource for them. She has three daughters – a 6-year-old daughter, Ophelia, and 3-year-old twins, Fiona and Josie – at school.

“It was the first community we were part of,” she said. “My eldest daughter has grown academically and socially especially over the past year and I bring that to the wonderful teachers she has had.”

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8585, or hoberst@keenesentinel.com.

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