Late last Thursday afternoon, Little Pioneers Daycare Director Gwen Adams and her staff were preparing for parents to pick up the last four children in their care before locking the doors and closing the daycare. After a six-year run, the Little Pioneers Daycare Board was compelled to close its doors, leaving parents of 24 children and six toddlers on their own to find new daycare and employees to find new jobs.
Parents and staff were surprised in mid-April when the Pioneer Church leadership delivered a two-week notice to vacate letter to the daycare. Exchanges between Little Pioneer families with the church leadership followed with multiple potential last day dates.
The June 30 closure date became official after Pioneer Church’s board considered and agreed to a short extension to the daycare’s closure to give parents additional time to make childcare arrangements, with a final consideration to remain open until the end of July if parents were able to fulfill a checklist of tasks of obtaining an organization to pick up the day care service.
“Trying to find childcare that takes CalWORKs payments is definitely a huge struggle,” said Alicia Deanda, a single mother of four who is attending college online and had her 2-year-old enrolled at Little Pioneers. “There is nobody else in Winters that takes it. I’m having to look in Davis and Woodland, but without help paying for gas back and forth. Being a low income single mom, I simply can’t afford that.”
Little Pioneers Daycare former administrator Sheri Lester told the Express she had concern on whether the congregation had been given a vote on the decision to close the program as they had in 2015 on the decision to open the daycare program, which was established on Jan. 4, 2016.
Lester said at the time, the church wanted to better serve the Winters community and they had a huge building that wasn’t being utilized. Through research they discovered Winters was in dire need of an infant and toddler all-day care option.
Tom Williams, Pioneer Church spokesperson and board member, told the Express that the church’s congregation is growing — as is the population of Winters. He said their board reached the hard decision to return Wesley Hall, the space dedicated for the daycare, to church-related functions as it had been intended before the use by Little Pioneers Daycare.
In a previous interview, Pioneer Church Pastor Bruce Chapman told the Express the church leadership is looking to host a new AWANA Club, children’s ministry, youth group and other beneficial community events in Wesley Hall, which are consistent with the church’s values and the historic use of the building.
According to Chapman, the church made numerous attempts to try and host other events in Wesley Hall, and it did not work for either the church membership or the daycare. Chapman said the choice to close the daycare center is “first and foremost about restoring Wesley Hall for the good purposes for which it was built” and to allow the community to host events there as they did in the past.
A ‘somewhat solution’
With low enrollment numbers due to an age shift in the state’s Transitional Kindergarten program and a need to hire new staff, Winters Parent Nursery School (WPNS) board members began to look at out-of-the-box solutions. At their June meeting, the WPNS board approved to hire on the four remaining Little Pioneer staff members — including Adams as its new Director — for their preschool program as of July 1, and approved special programs to enhance their regular preschool program for during the school year.
Express Editor and WPNS Board President Crystal Apilado said that WPNS is not a daycare, but a “parent-cooperative preschool.” The distinction, she noted is that the cooperative program is a nonprofit with a board of directors composed of families who make all financial, fundraising and employee decisions with an emphasis on a “play-based social structure.” Families who are enrolled also have family-participation requirements to help maintain the school and fundraise.
WPNS’s website also stresses, “WPNS is not a daycare center; it is an education program for children and parents alike.”
In June, the Yolo County Community Care Licensing analyst spoke with Williams, Adams and Apilado on the status of both programs. Apilado said that in her conversation with the analyst, it was decided that WPNS would revive its special summer program for the month of July to help provide a place for the Little Pioneer families to go.
“Families had been in contact with me since May and had expressed a lot of frustration and stress regarding the fact that they had no idea on if the Little Pioneers Daycare facility would be open to them or not for the summer,” Apilado said. “The WPNS Board had already approved to be open to having a summer program at our May meeting, so although we would be a bit rushed — we decided to dive in feet first to make July happen so the families had some kind of support. Some of our WPNS families also were excited for the opportunity since we had to close down our summer program due to first COVID and then not having enough staff to run the program.”
Deanda told the Express that Little Pioneers families were heartbroken and upset over the back-and-forth on when the last day of the daycare program would be.
“I do not think they took everything into account this past year that they’ve been working on their decision, without telling us parents about it until April. We got a two-weeks notice and a ‘maybe’ to staying until June 3,” Deanda said. “That was worse than an eviction which is at least 30-90 days notice. I felt attacked walking into the center and seeing an elderly man handing out papers saying we had two weeks to find other care for our children. I am not against the Church having their building back; however, I do think they should have went about it entirely differently, and with sympathy, and a way longer time frame.”
“The Winters community has always been so supportive and loving of Little Pioneers. When the church announced it was closing the center, we continued to receive support from the community, the City Council, the City Manager, and Winters Parent Nursery School. These people all worked together to create a new program that the parents could use,” Lester said.
For the month of July, WPNS is offering a special summer program to the community for children age two through six years old. They also have a few openings left for their regular preschool program that is scheduled to begin on Aug. 1.
The approved special programs for the regular preschool school year include early drop-off between 7 – 8:30 a.m., and after school extended care until 5:30 p.m. to be in effect between August 2022 and March 2023. Apilado said the Board approved a change in the preschool program timeframe, which generally follows the Winters Joint Unified School District’s calendar, to make it more available for families who need the extended day.
WPNS is licensed to have 24 students on site. However, it is not licensed to accept students under two years of age which, as Apilado said, “is the biggest problem in town.”
“The great thing about Little Pioneers is they were able to accept infants and toddlers under two years old. It’s a somewhat solution. I wish we could support all of the families, but we are first and foremost a preschool-aged program, and so we did what we could with what we have,” Apilado said.
Questions about the WPNS preschool program can be found online at wintersparentnurseryschool.org. Enrollment packets are available during business hours at the WPNS schoolhouse (208 Fourth St.) during business hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Questions can be directed to Adams by email at email@example.com.