Childcare provider addresses school board, council about proposed center at Washington

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    Childcare provider Stephanie Okroi spoke with the Crookston School Board and City Council this week about the proposed center at Washington Elementary School and was backed up by City Administrator Amy Finch at both meetings. Okroi said Finch approached her about the high need for child care in Crookston and to gauge her interest in starting a center, plus they, along with Superintendent Jeremy Olson, recently “took a peek” at the school’s space.

    Okroi, who has a Master’s degree in Early Childhood and Family Science plus a PhD, told the board and council that she has a successful childcare center in Grand Forks with 73 kids cared for there and would like to have the Crookston center open by September 2021 if the state allows. She also mentioned that her fees to the state are paid, background check is in and her licensure will come out of Minneapolis.

    The new center would be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and could house 22 children, mostly infants and toddlers, on each side of the 800 square foot space. Okroi plans for a separate security system that locks after each shift and unlocks right before each day that care is provided so that no one would have access to the building. When asked by board member Patty Dillabough about using the school’s lunch system, Okroi said she is interested in setting up a contract with the school district.

    “I’m here to help out the school district and community, anything that I can do to bring it on over and I greatly appreciate the spots open at Washington Elementary,” Okroi told the school board.

    She added that she’s fairly confident she can get the staffing and has a few “float” employees that would come to Crookston as well as herself traveling to and from her other center.

    “My lead teachers are Early Childhood and part-time staff is students going into social work, nursing and early education or education so I kind of look at those qualities or have experience in the background,” Okroi explained when asked by school board member Dave Davidson about the qualifications of her staff. “We do background checks, first aid and CPR, they’re required to do, and also training each month with so many hours of training each month.”

    Later, at the city council meeting, Finch told the council that Okroi is willing to expand into other locations if more space becomes available. Finch also said that at some point in the future, a proposal could come before the council to extend a separate sidewalk to the child care center entrance at the school to make it more convenient for parents dropping off and picking up kids. Finch said the sidewalk, and maybe some help with snow removal, could be seen as the City's contribution to Okroi's efforts.

    “We’re really excited that Stephanie wants to be here in town to provide this service to us and our families,” she added. “I think we should feel blessed that she wants to come here, collaborate, and offer the very best care to infants and toddlers at the very best rate possible.”

    Ward 1 city council member Kristie Jerde mentioned that when her own child was an infant she had to drive to Fisher for child care for six months before finding an opening in Crookston and thought the new center “will help get more moms into the workforce.”

    Note: Times’ Managing Editor Mike Christopherson contributed to this story.

Childcare provider Stephanie Okroi, right, addresses the Crookston School Board
Childcare provider Stephanie Okroi at the Crookston School Board meeting