Honolulu preschool closure will worsen early education shortage, advocates say

For nearly four decades, the Seagull Schools Early Education Center has been located on the corner of Beretania and Alapai streets in downtown Honolulu.

Ryan Okuno is the father of two children, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. The eldest is a preschool student.

“In terms of location, it’s perfect,” he said. “My wife works a block from here, we live in the city, so I’m already on my way to work. The cost of training is just right. It’s a quality center … you don’t hear anything but great about this place. “

The Preschool Education Center was Okunos ’first choice for the preschool. However, the demand for a place at the school is high and their son has been put on a long waiting list. Fortunately, they were able to send their son to another nearby preschool.

But during the pandemic, places in Seagull’s schools became available, allowing Okuno’s son to enter preschool. As for Okuno, he has seen his son prosper over the past two years.

“The main thing is numbers and letters, the ability to compose a sentence, to be more independent. You know, he goes to the toilet at home. Don’t forget to wash your hands when you come out of the game. “

Akuno is in the process of enrolling his youngest child in school.

The preschool opened its doors in 1986, originally created to care for the children of Honolulu city and county employees. Eventually, he expanded his qualifications for enrollment to the general public, providing the necessary services to those working in Hawaii, the Queen’s Medical Center, and the Honolulu Water Board.

Unlike other preschools, the center has ample room to care for more than 220 students, making it one of the largest preschools in Oahu. It’s also one of the most affordable for $ 1,000 a month.

“We know it’s about $ 200-300 cheaper a month than our preschool counterparts,” said Megan McCorriston, CEO of Seagull Schools.

The school also operates 11 hours a day.

“This will allow our diverse workforce to come and access our childcare services and allow them to return to work,” McCariston said.

Earlier this month, the city told McCariston that rent in their city center would not be extended and they would have to leave the area in August.

If this preschool closes, there may not be enough schools to accept displaced students.

Closure exacerbates the lack of child care

“We don’t have enough programs,” said Kathleen Alger, director of early learning for the non-profit Hawai’i Children’s Action Network. “We don’t have enough classrooms or facilities to serve all the children in need. And that’s a constant problem in the state. We’ve never had enough.”

Eldir says the pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of child care providers in the state. But the closure of the Center for Preschool Education exacerbates the problem.

“We have more than 200 children displaced, we have nothing to do with these children … At that time we saw only the loss of places,” she said. “The market is getting even tougher so parents can find help. But the desire for care has not changed.

Parents who are on the waiting list when they find out they are giving birth are also added to the contest.

“The total waiting time or waiting list for any school, including Seagull Schools, is usually one to two years,” McCariston said. “And a lot of times it’s very frustrating, a lot of times we just don’t have enough space for them and they outgrow the waiting list and never get a place in one of our schools.”

There are several factors that contribute to the lack of childcare providers. One is the shortage of preschoolers in the state and country.

education elementary school playground Honolulu, Hawaii

“The childcare operation is very expensive. Because it’s really time consuming,” she said.

“What we’ve seen over time are people who leave the workforce in early care and training because it pays wages at the poverty level. It’s demanding work. And people can work in another sector – retail, hospitality “And they can earn more. So we’ve created an unsustainable system that will only get worse if we don’t make some significant public investment.”

Eldir also notes that childcare was seen as a business, not a public service or assistance. She believes that more funding from the state and the county could significantly affect the restructuring of the current preschool education system.

“We need to invest in our early service and learn just like in our other educational institutions.”

Last year, the legislature took steps to address the shortage of teachers. This included a measure that would provide scholarships for students of the University of Hawaii who focus on early learning. This year, lawmakers aim to continue investing in the shortage of workers by creating a pilot subsidy program at the Executive Office of Preschool Education.

Search for a new object

McCariston says she hopes the school will be able to find a new place and prepare it in six months.

“Given the amazing response we’ve seen from the community … I just have to stay hopeful. And maybe I’m a naive optimist, but I have to stay hopeful that we’ll find a place for at least 220 families very soon in one or two new places. We will do our best to make it happen. “

McCariston says they are still looking for places near downtown or Cocoa to be close to their parents ’jobs. But they are also expanding their search in areas such as Kalihi, Liliha, McCally and Manoa.

However, opening a new preschool is not easy. There are legal requirements, such as fences and gates to protect children, and practical requirements, such as having children’s restrooms near the classroom for potty training.

“I’m not sure there’s a place that looks like a finished one that has it,” Algiers said. “So I’m sure we may have to make changes. It’s extremely expensive, especially now we know, and only the size of the space, if they were looking in that area, I think it would be very hard to find.”

Meanwhile, parents, like Okuno, are trying to find another affordable option for their children.

“I’m really worried about the bigger blow from closing this school,” he said. Eventually you will have more children who will need fewer places. In other schools, who knows if this could lead to rand behavior. They will know that their places are more valuable, you know, supply and demand, right? it’s hard to live here. “

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