- Stories Across the Agency
Adapting to Change with Aeryn King
Back in March, all Educare Learning Network schools closed their physical locations in response to COVID-19. Just a month later, Educare Seattle was the first Network school to reopen their building, providing on-site childcare for enrolled children and families of essential workers. We touched base with Educare Site Manager Aeryn King to hear about her journey to her current position and the lessons learned along the way.
PSESD: Can you tell me your name, position and a little bit about your role?
Aeryn King (AK): My name is Aeryn King, and I am the Site Manager at Educare of Greater Seattle. I manage the day to day operations of one of 24 Educare sites across the country.
PSESD: How long have you been working with the agency?
AK: I’ve been working with PSESD for two and a half years.
PSESD: How did your background (personal or professional) influence your journey to lead you to your current position?
AK: I used to have a picture of Educare Seattle printed out from an article I read when they first opened in the visor of my car. I used to tap it for good luck, and always hoped to someday be a part of the Educare Network. I worked at a sub contractor of the PSESD, and I was drawn to the mission of the agency as well as being a part of a national network with an emphasis on program, policy, and research. Now, that same photo I printed out of Educare sits framed in my office. I spent years before I had my daughter within an international children’s outreach program. I have a really strong conviction to work globally to close the opportunity gaps for children.
I used to have a picture of Educare Seattle printed out from an article I read when they first opened in the visor of my car. I used to tap it for good luck, and always hoped to someday be a part of the Educare Network.
PSESD: Working in education requires adaptation and creativity, and there are often opportunities for innovation as educators seek out the best way to meet the needs of their students. When Educare Seattle transitioned to virtual programming and support due to COVID-19, can you speak at all to the innovation and adaptation that you saw on behalf of teachers, students and families?
AK: Yes! Educare snapped into action to collaborate with families first. The family advocates were sometimes reaching out to families every single day to see what their needs were. The Mentor Teachers were connecting to their teaching teams. The Site Supervisors pulled up giant white boards and sat in the commons, the largest meeting space we have. While physical distancing, they mapped out several scenarios to meet the needs of families and rewrite every procedure we have to adjust to new safety precautions. I can honestly say that it was more work than opening a band new center. Educare Seattle served as a model to the rest of the Educare Network and reopened to on-site childcare before any other site—some still aren't open. The resiliency and innovation of our teams cannot be understated.
PSESD: As you think back to that time, what sticks out to you the most?
AK: The long days. We always say that in education we have a bad habit of burning the candle at both ends. During our plans to reopen we were working around the clock, alongside PSESD leadership and other departments to open as safely and sanely as possible. I remember sending emails and getting responses from several people at all hours of the night. It stood out that when we all come together, we can really power through a lot of work!
Educare Seattle served as a model to the rest of the Educare Network and reopened to on-site childcare before any other site—some still aren't open. The resiliency and innovation of our teams cannot be understated.
PSESD: You mentioned that Educare Seattle reopened to on-site childcare before any other site in the Educare Network. Can you tell us a bit about what the process was like in balancing that difficult decision to reopen, especially as the first school to do so in the national Educare Network?
AK: It was difficult. When we closed we thought it was only going to be for a week! As guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Health (DOH) was changing rapidly, we had to rewrite our guidance and procedures several times. We also were being called to Executive Director meetings and School Director meetings to talk about our processes to the network and the National Association of Head Start. We spoke at director meetings for Seattle Preschool Program and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). If we weren’t in planning mode, we were in sharing mode. For decision-making, we went grassroots. The reopening was built around the answers we came up with to questions from staff and families.
On July 1, Laura McAlister and myself were the panelists for the National Head Start Associations (NHSA) weekly "Kitchen Talk" about reopening. We spoke to over 3,000 Head Start providers around the country, and we directed them to the uploaded documents we created on the Educare Share platform to support the reopening process. Yasmina Vinci, The Executive Director of NHSA, said “your quick reopening sounds like something only a magician might accomplish.” It took planning, preparing, extra funding, and endless collaboration with each other and ESD, to create that magic.
PSESD: How has it felt to be able to maintain service to students and families in the face of such difficult circumstances?
AK: Incredible. When kiddos came back to the building we were so happy. When the playgrounds were empty and everything was quiet, nothing felt right. Our teachers and Family Advocates who are supporting children and families both off-site and on are over-the-top amazing. Passionate, dedicated, and quick to adapt. We had to change everything—teaching teams, physical environments, meal service, how we clean and sanitize— and the teachers and family advocates were just like “OK, let’s do this”.
PSESD: Are there any stories or lessons that you’ve gained over the past six months that continue to inspire you during times of challenge?
AK: Collaboration is everything. The values we hold dear are especially important during high stress times. We had to double down on our mission and values, and we have become a stronger Educare because of it. I am excited about our future.
PSESD: Are there any final thoughts you'd like to share?
AK: I want to thank my incredible Leadership Team: Laura Mcalister for her experience, wisdom, and how she supports and encourages me. Christine Young for enabling others to act; she is a rock for our center and consistently centers the voices of our staff. Charlena Moultine, who is never afraid to abandon status quo and challenge the process, particularly around leaning in to equity and excellence in education. To our Family Advocates who are making their mark within our center, our community, and the nation, modeling the the way for others on how to come together as team to support people furthest from power while collaborating with the Leadership Team and teaching staff. Last, but certainly not least, to our teachers: your resiliency, flexibility, and innovation knows no bounds. Your passion is the breath that relights the fire of Educare when we are down to red embers. Your thoughtfulness and attention to detail is what makes Educare Seattle stand out amongst a network of High Quality Teaching Practices.
PSESD: Our deep appreciation goes out to you and the entire Educare Seattle family for your continued support of our students, educators and families. Thank you!
“Stories Across the Agency” is a bi-monthly column dedicated to the stories of the people who make up Puget Sound ESD. With over 100 programs across King County, Pierce County, and Bainbridge Island, our goal is to share the experiences of staff throughout the agency to increase awareness around the collective impact of our work.