One year ago, Molly Gareis was gathering a team of activists together, bracing herself for news that could potentially cripple the preschool she led in Williamsburg.
At the time, the Virginia Department of Social Services was considering strengthening training regulations for staff at daycares and preschools across the state — changes that could potentially nix a special exemption critical to the operation of the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool, a parent-volunteer-driven preschool at 1333 Jamestown Road.
But in February, a bill introduced by local Del. Brenda Pogge, R-96, passed the state House and Senate, securing the future of the “co-op” in Virginia. The bill wrote into law an exemption so “co-op” parents — who assist teachers in the classroom in exchange for lower tuition rates — can continue volunteering without going through a prohibitive amount of training hours.
Now, as the start of the next school year looms on the horizon, Gareis’ job simply requires her to look toward the future.
“It’s really out best-case scenario,” Gareis said Tuesday.
Gareis has turned her attention to the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool’s 50th anniversary, which is this September.
As part of the anniversary, the school will work to build a fund through alumni donations, which will help support the co-op in the years to come.
“Our focus is on how to remain sustainable for the future,” Gareis said.
Cooperative preschools are built around a model that emphasizes parent time in the classroom. Child care tuition rates are typically below average, and parents supplement that by volunteering in the classroom for a certain number of days each month.
Parents assist teachers in the classroom, meaning cooperative preschools have fewer staff.
While the parent training remains the same for the upcoming years as it has been in the past — four hours per parent — the preschool could feel the impact of the new regulations in its teaching staff.
Gareis said she is preparing for the new regulations to be more stringent for teachers: the number of training hours required could increase from 16 hours co-op teachers currently do annually, and the type of training hours could be more specific.
“Most likely that’ll be something we can manage,” Gareis said.
Gareis added the cop-op’s costs have increased in recent years because of more expensive supplies, not training regulations. Last year, the co-op increased its tuition by $10 a month. In August, Gareis told WYDaily tuition ranged from about $70 a month to $225 per month.
Having parents exempt from teacher and staff training regulations helps keep those rates low, Gareis added.
The Virginia Department of Social Services Board passed the new regulations on training requirements intended to make preschools safer in December, but the exact text of the new regulations was not included.
Nonetheless, the new regulations will include a clause protecting parent volunteers from being required to complete the same number of training hours as teachers.
Gareis said the Department of Social Services is expected to release the exact verbiage for the new regulations sometime after July 1.
Now, the preschool is preparing for next year as it typically has in the past.
Gareis said there are fewer children enrolled for the upcoming school year, speculating the cause could have been the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the cooperative preschool model.
Now that Pogge’s bill has passed to protect the parent’s existing training requirements, Gareis hopes more parents will sign their children up for the co-op.
“It is actually a law now,” Gareis said. “It’s not going to be changed anytime soon, or hopefully ever.”
The school starts again Sept. 9.