From the editor: Daycare community came together after closure

2014-08-10T00:00:00Z 2014-08-11T08:05:17Z From the editor: Daycare community came together after closureBy DARRELL EHRLICK dehrlick@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Other than losing daycare, $2,000 and having no idea what to do next, last Saturday was a great day.

And as much as I can carp and moan about my day, there were around 40 people who found out about the same way that they'd lost their jobs; some apparently didn't even get a paycheck.

Our family was one of as many as 200 families who spent the weekend in a state of emotional free-fall and turmoil as we learned Ahead of the Curve childhood center in Billings had without notice abruptly closed. 

Some of us had already paid tuition, only to have it deposited, now probably never to see it.

But most of all: Our kids didn't get a chance to say goodbye to friends. More importantly, we didn't get a chance to thank all the great teachers who took care of our kids and many of whom loved them like they were their own.

So I'll save my rants about how the center was closed, and spare you of any more personal details. Other families had worse situations — having to take time off, lose work, lose jobs, split up children during the day.

Instead, I want to tell you about the great things this really bad situation did to bring out the best in the Billings community.

What the owners of Ahead of the Curve may not have fully appreciated was the caliber of staff members they had. Several parents have exchanged stories, either informally or as they toured new daycare facilities. We shared our horrified reactions, and commiserated in the stress it added.

I understand that not everyone who had a child there (both in the past or even presently) loved it. And, as Gazette reporter Derek Brouwer pointed out, it had its own share of management issues.

However, also common to many parents were teachers and staff members who reached out to families after the sudden Saturday announcement in which only a sign was taped to the door.

We, like many families, discovered that about as soon as the sign was posted on the door, others drove to the center, just to see the plain signed taped to the glass. We just had to look upon it for ourselves in order to fully take it in. 

I remember peeking through the window of my daughter's classroom. There were the sweatshirts and coats hanging on the little hooks, just as we had left them. The board still said, "Happy Friday!"

We discovered the teachers and staff had reached out to the families, not just to lament, but to offer advice or to let families know how much their kiddos meant to them.

Within almost moments, other daycare providers had called in staff for open houses to help families find placements.

We were lucky. We've found what we believe will be a good place with similarly caring folks. 

The daycare community came together, and many directors were doing everything they could to atone for the poor actions of one of their fellow center owners. I reached out to almost a dozen places on Sunday, even before most of them opened. And, I got calls back from many, some within minutes. I'd love to tell you that my experience was the exception. But, as I visit with more affected parents, everyone had similar stories to tell. 

As I and another parents were touring a different facility, a familiar face from Ahead of the Curve appeared. She was one of the teachers who had been at Ahead of the Curve for more than five years, since its beginning. She filled out an application at the other daycare, told the toddler in the family she was missed and recounted her new job search. She hadn't received a final paycheck. Now, she was looking for work because she loves children. She couldn't wait to start again.

The experience puts a finer, more real emphasis on recent initiatives for early childhood education and reasonable child care. It's one of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's big pushes and though we've disagreed previously, on this one, the governor's absolutely right. A workforce that doesn't have good childcare is a workforce distracted and not as productive. Childcare is an economic issue as much as one families of all backgrounds struggle with in the day of two-income households.

Maybe one of the most tragic aspects of the Ahead of the Curve closure is that a beautiful facility — one that could hold as many kids as some small elementary schools is now sitting vacant, unused, despite demonstrated demand. It's too nice of a facility and it had staff, as one person on Facebook said, who tried to make every class like a family.

Quite frankly, Billings deserves to have plenty of options and it deserves nice facilities. What started as a dream for one enterprising couple became many families' nightmare last weekend.

Now, I hope the community can figure out a solution to put the building back into use to once again to provide stability for families and daycare workers alike. 

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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