Published Oct. 5, 2023
BY SHAYLA DUTTA
Nestled deep in Carmel Valley, Cachagua Children’s Center and Preschool has been serving some of the most remote members of Carmel Unified School District’s community for the past 26 years, but due to staffing issues, the Cachagua Preschool has not reopened for the 2023-24 school year and the district has no expected timeline for doing so.
The preschool in Cachagua opened in 1997. It provided care for infants 6 weeks to 5 years old from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m, while the children’s center provided food, internet, games and homework time for students of all ages from 4:00 p.m to 6:00 p.m.. Since 2018, Cachagua Preschool has fallen under the umbrella of Carmelo Preschool.
“We want to continue those services obviously,” explains Laura Dunn, CUSD’s director of child development programs. “The funding is still there. Everybody at the district office is super supportive.”
At the beginning of the school year, three students were enrolled in the preschool, down from seven the year before. Now, all three are attending Carmelo preschool, located mid-valley near Schulte Road. According to Dunn, providing a bus to transport those students from Carmelo to Cachagua would be difficult given the shortage of bus drivers in CUSD, and none of the three families expressed a need for district-provided transportation.
In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for students to attend Cachagua Preschool and later transition to Carmelo, but at that time district bussing was available.
The now-closed school previously employed child development teacher Beth Frederick, an instructional aide and a technology and study hall assistant. While the latter two continue to work at the after-school program, Frederick has been on leave since Sept. 29, 2022. The teacher explains that extenuating circumstances have not made it possible for her to return yet.
“I miss it so much. I wish I was there,” Frederick says. “And it breaks my heart that I’m not, because I care about the students and their families.”
After spending several years in Cachagua, Frederick has become close with some of the students and families there and says she continues to support them as best she can from her capacity as a community member.
“Everyone really loves Ms. Beth,” says current CHS senior Azucena Salinas Martinez, who lives in Cachagua and attended both the Cachagua Preschool and After School program. “She’s there for the community, which is different from being there for work. The kids feel that.”
Although Frederick went on leave in September 2022, Cachagua preschool stayed open until the end of the 2022-23 school year. The child development program director explains that the school’s technology and study hall aide, Guadalupe Martinez Blanco, has the proper credentials to teach there and did so through the end of the previous year. Why Martinez Blanco doesn’t continue to do so this year is a personnel decision Dunn says she cannot speak to.
According to Dunn, the school cannot reopen without a specifically certified child development teacher to supervise preschoolers. At the beginning of summer, CUSD posted a job listing for a “temporary preschool teacher,” but has not yet received any qualified applicants.
“The preschool is very important to the community.” says Michelle Prejean, whose two children attended Cachagua Preschool, but have since graduated. “Why is it closed when there are families enrolled and ready to attend? They’re now driving an hour away from where they live.”