Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Secretary of new state agency hosts listening session at library

  • Groginsky’s Farmington stop was one of just several she has made or will make across the state this spring.
  • The New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department has been in existence for less than two years.
  • Groginsky said child care is an issue even for adults who don’t have children because it has a direct impact on the size of the work force in every community.

FARMINGTON — More than two dozen early childhood education workers and professionals crowded into the Teen Zone at the Farmington Public Library on April 11 to share their concerns about their industry with Elizabeth Groginsky, the secretary of the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

Groginsky visited Farmington as part of a statewide listening tour.

Her Farmington stop was one of just several she has made or will make across the state this spring, including visits to Truth or Consequences, Deming, Silver City, Clovis, Portales, Las Vegas, Raton, Albuquerque, Ruidoso, Alamogordo, Cloudcroft, Carlsbad , Roswell and Las Cruces.

In an interview afterwards, Groginsky said her agency — which has been in existence for less than two years — has established several strategic priorities, one of which is creating authentic collaboration with those who work in the trenches of early childhood education. Her visits to all those communities across the state are part of her effort to make good on that promise of building collaboration, she said.

“We actually do make changes based on what people say,” she said.

Groginsky and members of her staff listened to feedback from the crowd for close to 90 minutes, with some audience members expressing appreciation for how the agency had assisted them and others describing specific issues they were having with certain programs, both state and federal.

Much of the talk centered on the administration and use of grant money originating from the American Rescue Plan, and how those funds have helped many of the child care centers in San Juan County keep their doors open during the pandemic.

Micah McCoy, Groginsky’s communications director, said in an email to The Daily Times that nearly $8 million in child care stabilization grants were provided directly to providers in the San Juan County area.

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Elisabeth Groginsky, secretary of the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department, speaks at the Farmington Public Library on April 11 as part of a statewide listening tour.

“Those grants are meant to build these kinds of relationships and partnerships,” Groginsky said.

The secretary said those federal relief dollars were intended to help child care facilities remain stable and perhaps even grow despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. She added she was especially interested in hearing about innovative ideas she could take back to the state Capitol in Santa Fe.

Much of the input offered by audience members focused on the economics of running a child care business, with some providers explaining that they essentially run their facility as a public service through which they generate little or even no profit. One provider said that his facility’s receipt of a stabilization grant had allowed him to make some much-needed capital improvements to his building that he would never have been able to do otherwise.

“We’re small local people, and we don’t have funding like schools do,” he said. “We do all these things in house. So that (grant) was huge.”

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Groginsky praised those in attendance for the work they do preparing children for the public education system, in addition to providing a safe and caring environment for kids while their parents are working.

“We don’t want to see children coming into school not ready to learn,” she said.

Groginsky remarked repeatedly on how supportive early childhood education providers and social service agencies in the Farmington area are of each other and how well networked they are. One advocate said that network has grown tremendously over the last 25 years, making it much easier for her to do her job.

“There’s almost not any resource you can’t find here for a family,” she said.

“That’s great,” Groginsky responded after hearing that comment. “That’s not something we’re hearing everywhere.”

More than two dozen early childhood education workers crowd into the Teen Zone at the Farmington Public Library on April 11 to listen to a presentation by Elizabeth Groginsky, secretary of the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

Another provider talked about how her facility has established a successful unpaid internship program for 17-year-olds, many of whom complete the program and are eager to go to work in the industry. But the provider said state law prohibits them from working paid positions in the child care industry until they are 18, even if they have graduated early from high school.

That is a source of frustration for facility managers who continue to have a great deal of trouble maintaining adequate staffing, she said.

“We are all so stressed for employees,” she said.

Groginsky and her legal counsel agreed to look into the issue and study whether a work-around solution could be found.

During the interview after the listening session, Groginksy said she was hearing from folks all over the state about what a significant issue child care is, especially from parents who want to re-enter the work force but can’t find a facility to care for their children or cannot afford the cost of the service.

She said she believes the establishment of her new agency by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham less than two years ago has helped smooth over some of those issues.

“I think a lot more connection points have happened because the department was formed,” she said.

More:San Juan County initiative aimed at improving access to services like health, job training

Groginsky said child care is an issue even for adults who don’t have children because it has a direct impact on the size of the workforce in every community.

Business owners increasingly have recognized that link, she said. She explained that in Silver City, a mine operator recently made a significant contribution to the construction of a new playground for infants and toddlers because so many of the mine’s employees were parents of children who would take advantage of that amenity.

As she concluded her remarks to the audience, Groginsky promised to take some of what she had learned from her visit here and apply it elsewhere in New Mexico.

“You have a gem here,” she said. “We’ll try to export some of what Farmington does.”

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.

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