Guest commentary: It’s not for the kids
As I begin to wind up a preschool that has served thousands of community children over the past 30 years, I feel compelled to share a final note.
I have a strong background in early childhood and more specifically in early childhood policy. I have degrees in education policy and a law degree. I have worked in the early childhood field for most of my adult life. I returned to Aspen to teach and to run Playgroup because I knew what a magical place it is and the impact that it has on children. I did it because I love it and because I love teaching to and learning from the kids in our valley.
Under the direction of Kids First, the state of early childhood in the upper valley is in shambles. With a massive budget and over 25 years to figure out how to do this well, almost no progress has been made, and that is simply unacceptable for our kids and families. If I didn’t care, I would walk away silently. I care deeply.
The lease changes at issue have had the effect of forcing two tenured early childhood programs out of Aspen. More than 50 local families will be without high-quality, excellent early childhood education and as Kids First has acknowledged, there is no immediate plan to fill that void nor are there enough qualified staff to fill positions in programs currently.
The decision was made based on a directive from City Council to increase child care capacity. The decision and the basis of the decisions has been hashed out in meetings with various city staff and officials, via email, in public work sessions, and at Kids First Advisory Board meetings, so I won’t waste my time repeating those. I will say, though, that increasing capacity at the expense of our children’s education is not wise and is not a decision made for the well-being and in the best interest of our children.
Throughout these meetings, I have consistently held that the Kids First leadership needs to be reassessed, and I truly believe that. Our elected officials and city staff are trusting the advice and guidance of one person, but they are not receiving all the necessary information to make the best decisions for our community.
Many times, the data presented in public meetings is incorrect or incomplete, and there is a dearth of valley-wide data that has simply never been compiled. This is not acceptable when the government is making decisions about the care of our children or when making decisions about spending huge sums of tax payer dollars. We have given the current leadership over 25 years to figure this out and they have failed — we have less high-quality early childhood care under this leadership now than we did 20 years ago.
Not a single new school has been created under Kids First, but individuals who have eschewed their leadership have been able to accomplish it. It is time to change course and open ourselves up to fresh ideas, best practices and the input of those who have worked in the field and dedicated themselves to the children of our community.
The right thing to do is often the hardest. For the sake of our children, I urge the city of Aspen to dig into these issues and do the right thing for our children now and in the future.
Kadi Kuhlenberg is the owner and director of Playgroup Aspen, which is an early childhood education center located in the city of Aspen’s Yellow Brick building.