‘So rewarding:’ Iredell-Statesville Schools expands in-school childcare for all employees

All I-SS employees can utilize the district’s childcare program
Iredell-Statesville Schools is making sure its employees don't have to choose between their jobs and quality childcare.
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 4:44 PM EDT
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STATESVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) - Iredell-Statesville Schools is bringing affordable, quality childcare straight to its employees.

Frank Saraco is the principal at Celeste Henkel Elementary School in Statesville. As the final weeks of summer 2021 came to a close he and his teachers prepped classrooms and curriculum, but one teacher wasn’t sure she would be able to return for the 2021-2022 school year.

Saraco said the teacher was visibly distraught about a recent childcare experience and wasn’t sure she would be able to afford other options.

“She called me one night and said ‘I’m going to have to quit. I looked at her and said, ‘why?’ and she said, ‘I cannot find childcare and I’m really nervous about my daughter being in a place that I don’t feel is safe.’”

Saraco says the next thing that came to his mind was what some would call a “crazy idea.” He wanted to open a childcare center inside of the school to support this mother.

He said hiring a single nanny would be too expensive, so he called the superintendent hoping it would get approved.

“I have a teacher who is going to have to terminate employment I need someone who is going to be able to do this right now at my school,” Saraco recalled.

Within days the “Henkel Childcare Center” was born. The in-school child care center serves all the way from newborns up to school-aged children who turn 5 before August 31.

The childcare center is also at N.B. Mills Elementary School and by August 22 it will be at West High School along with Union Grove and Woodland Heights Elementary Schools.

District officials say the childcare goes to fund the positions at all five sites. Any extra funds will be utilized to replenish supplies, purchase new items for the childcare sites, and curriculum needs.

Laurie Spice says this program was a lifesaver for her too. She was the third parent who enrolled her child in the program.

“We pour our hearts and souls into our jobs and knowing that our kids are getting the same experience is so rewarding,” she said.

Spice was only three months pregnant when she started calling dozens of childcare centers in Iredell and Mecklenburg Counties.

“You name it I called them and I struggled to even get on the waitlist,” Spice said. “I started to panic. I wasn’t ready to give up my profession and I needed to find childcare.”

Spice says she thoroughly enjoys having her son in the same building with people she trusts and at a price, she can afford.

The district is only charging $650 a month per child no matter the age.

WBTV called three different centers on Tuesday, all with prices ranging from $700-$1,200 a month. Other employees told WBTV they’ve seen some centers charging up to $1,600 a month, not including other fees.

Saraco says he wanted to make sure his teachers didn’t struggle financially on top of their other expenses, something new mother Spice appreciates.

“That’s just hard coming from a teaching salary to afford childcare and diapers and everything else that comes along with a new baby,’ she said.

The staff who work in the childcare centers are also employees at I-SS and are certified in CPR and infant care.

It’s not just saving parents time and money, Saraco hopes this will retain and attract more teachers and employees to the district for the long run.

“If I [have] happy teachers, I will have successful classrooms. It really was a win-win,” he said.

In addition, children in the centers have access to the same resources as the schools since they are inside of the schools. This includes security, nurses, physical therapy, and speech specialists.

Staff members are also preparing children for kindergarten by working on their motor skills, reading, sight words, vocabulary, and more starting from infancy and beyond.

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