When the new Deerfield Elementary opens on the same Edgewood campus it will share with a high and middle school, it will include an amenity designed to help retain teachers at all three schools.
The $26 million school, set for a spring 2008 groundbreaking on land behind the existing building, will house a day care center for staff at Deerfield and at Edgewood high and middle schools.
It is Harford County's first such venture and one that is much welcomed, according to a survey of the staff at the three schools.
Celeste Klima, Deerfield's principal, surveyed teachers at the three schools before urging the county to move forward with the day care center. Her poll showed "overwhelming support" for the concept. Several teachers told her a day care center was "long overdue."
"This has been a dream of mine for my teachers," Klima said. "We bring a lot of young, dynamic teachers into this demanding profession, and we often lose them when they have their own children. I can make things better for them by letting their children on this campus."
The size of the campus on Willoughby Beach Road and the number of teachers made a day care center economically feasible, said Kathleen Sanner, director of planning and construction for county schools.
Initial plans call for a 3,000- square-foot facility with its own kitchen. While its capacity is not yet determined, the center will accept children from infancy through middle school years.
"A day care program for teachers at all three schools will be part of the Deerfield campus with a full component of services," Sanner said. "Three schools make providing convenient, safe day care for teachers a viable concept. We hope it will be an incentive to retain staff."
The county will build the center, probably adjacent to the elementary school's gym, and then lease it to a licensed provider who will care for children for extended hours before and after school.
A day care center on site might encourage young teachers to stay in the profession, Klima said. With day care nearby, teachers can check on their children at lunchtime or during planning time. Proximity also saves time in the car and during an emergency, Klima said.
"The whole point is to keep certified teachers on staff," she said. "Our staff turns over mainly because they are young. This center says that we care about you and your family situation and we want to help you make career and family work."
The three schools have a history of high staff turnover, and a significant percentage of the student population is transient, Sanner said.
"There are special programs and discipline problems that make it harder to retain staff," Sanner said. "The staff is younger, and we are hoping the day care will help us keep as many as we can. We are offering this as a perk."
Theoretically, a child could attend the Edgewood campus as a preschooler and stay through high school.
"We want to build a campus mentality, a sense of continuity," Sanner said.
Construction on the elementary and an $81 million Edgewood High School will proceed simultaneously. Both of the old buildings will be razed once the new schools open. The middle school, which sits between the high school and elementary, has undergone extensive renovations.
The new Deerfield Elementary will have seats for 771 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. It will also include two pre-K classrooms. The elementary's staff has about 70 full- and part-time teachers. Its enrollment is expected to grow as the nationwide military expansion known as BRAC comes to nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"It is a large elementary for us, but it still reflects our original model," Sanner said.