High Cost of Living Strains Early Childhood Educators

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San Francisco has consistently ranked amongst the country’s most expensive housing markets. According to the January 2018 Zumper National Rent Report, the median price for a one bedroom in the City is $3,400, far exceeding any other U.S. metropolitan area. For many workers – nurses, teachers and emergency personnel – salaries and wages aren’t sufficiently high to match steep housing costs. This reality is especially true for early childhood educators, such as daycare center workers and preschool teachers.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, salaries for preschool teachers with master’s degrees are as low as $23,000 a year. Last summer, the Chronicle reported on the dearth of affordable child care in the City, and how the absence of government assistance results in either higher fees to parents or lower incomes for educators.

Last fall, District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim and District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee proposed a ballot initiative that’d provide universal childcare for San Franciscans. Though the initiative’s details have yet to be determined, it could appear on the November 2018 ballot. 

“I want to bring attention to the struggle we have retaining teachers,” said Mimi Kawakami Kloster, head of school, Potrero Kids. “Staffing is a growing problem in San Francisco, and it’s something we’ve talked about with City officials. Many teachers can’t afford to live in the City. We have some staff who travel two hours to get to work. The turnover rate has been increasing every year. Early childhood education is not a high paying field, though we try to offer a competitive salary. Some of our staff have moved on to other professions. Early childhood education is so vital.”

Thousands of new residential units are being built in Southeastern neighborhoods, which could increase demand for affordable childcare options. The Planning Department’s Eastern Neighborhoods Plan estimated that an additional 619 day care and 2,099 preschool spots will be needed to meet the expected influx of new families. According to Kloster, there’s already a shortage of programs serving two-year-olds in the area. She’s found that the five to ten available spots for Potrero Kids’ two-year-old program fills up during the first round of admissions every year.

“We’re seeing more families,” offered Kloster. “We’re receiving more applications relative to spots available. It’s disheartening to have to turn families away. We give preference to families that already have one child enrolled, so we have to turn some away. We’re seeing a huge need for two-year-old programs in the neighborhood.”

Affordability issues aside, a rich array of preschools and daycare centers are located in Potrero Hill, Dogpatch and South-of-Market. These include StarSeeds Preschool, Yerba Buena Child Development Center, La Scoula International, Kit Admit, Bright Horizons, Presidio Knolls School, Crayon Box Preschool, Little LYNC Childcare and Family Center, and University Childcare at Mission Bay.

Potrero Kids is a Spanish bilingual preschool with locations on Missouri Street and Illinois Street. The school is operated by the Potrero Residents Education Fund, which was launched in 2005. The fund was initiated by a group of parents who wanted to save Daniel Webster Elementary and bolster public education in general. Part of the plan was to create a preschool that could serve as a feeder for local elementary schools.

“We opened the preschool in 2008 and worked to make it a strong and high quality preschool to serve the neighborhood,” Kloster explained. “We really value creating something that allows families to stay in the neighborhood.”

Collectively, the two campuses serve about 100 students.  Sixty percent of Potrero Kids graduates attended Daniel Webster Elementary, prompting that school to continuously add more kindergarten classes.

Like Potrero Kids, Friends of Potrero Hill Preschool, located on Tennessee Street, is a nonprofit organization. The preschool is inspired by the ideas of Rudolph Steiner and the Waldorf system of education he created, marked by a focus on imaginative learning.

“Friends of Potrero maintains an intimate and simple atmosphere with a daily schedule that includes singing, storytelling, gardening and lots of outdoor play, cooking and other crafts,” offered Monica Leicht, Friends of Potrero Hill Preschool director. “Giving thanks for the earth, for food, and for each other is an integral part of our daily practice. Through a seasonal cycle of activities in our garden and throughout the neighborhood, we draw the children’s attention to the natural world around them. We believe that a familiarity and reverence for nature will create the environmentalists of the future.”

“Our classroom also reflects that reverence. Toys are made of wood, cotton and other natural materials. Most, like our colored cloths, are designed to be used in many different ways. Wooden figures, stones, beeswax and gathered leaves might combine to create an entire village. The stories told by the teachers are in keeping with the changing moods of the year, as well as the changing rhythms of each child.”