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'Childcare is a problem in our area': Jefferson County school district launches new strategy to retain, recruit staff

Dunklin R-5 school district is launching a daycare center to retain and recruit staff. They also expect it will cut down on the need for substitute teachers.

HERCULANEUM, Mo. — Facing the same staff retention and recruiting issues as so many school districts, Jefferson County's Dunklin R-5 is trying something different: daycare benefits for their staff.

"This is the paperwork for the grant that I applied for," Charissa Kappler said, holding up a thick stack of paper. "It is from the Missouri Department of Education. It is an expansion and enhancement grant."

Director for the district's Taylor Early Childhood Center, Kappler applied for the grants totaling $105,000 in the spring, outlining plans to start and outfit a daycare in a district building to serve and support current staff and attract potential hires.

Organizers believe it is only the second such program in the state of Missouri.

"My staff is predominantly younger with lots of babies," she said of the idea. "One year, I had six teachers pregnant at the same time and so childcare is a problem in our area. A lot of childcare places have closed."

The grant money transformed a former technology center and storage space into a daycare where they accept kids from eight weeks to three years old, covering the gap between maternity leave and pre-Kindergarten.

Superintendent Clint Freeman told Kappler to apply for the grant, expecting it might be denied their first try and accepted on re-submission. 

"It was overwhelming. An overwhelming response," Freeman said.

As soon as they announced the new program, the applications followed.

"We had a couple of paraprofessionals that we hired just recently that said 'because you are offering daycare I am able to take this position versus another district or not working at all,'" he said, adding "so it has already proven itself to be beneficial."

The district charges parents $185 per week for enrolment, money they will use to keep the program going past the initial start-up grant.

Kappler says that's about $40-50 less than the closest daycare centers. The district touts another attraction: their enrollees will also have access to a school nurse, a benefit many daycares do not have.

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