Mark H. Frankel, having weighed a number of job opportunities this summer, accepted a post as principal of Yorktown High School in Arlington. One big reason: the employe-operated child care center, which opened this week.
"The center enabled us to get settled in our professional lives," said Frankel, whose son Joshua, 4, is enrolled in the center.
Called The Children's School, the center is believed to be only the second child care cooperative in the country owned and operated by employes of a school system. About 35 children are enrolled in the center.
"We fully intend this to be a showcase," said Margaret McCourt-Dirner, chairwoman of the center's founding board and principal of Abingdon Elementary School. "We feel as educators we should be demonstrating to the public models of child care that we feel are exceptional."
The center's creation is the culmination of an effort that started in 1983 with a survey that found many school employes had young children and were interested in having a child care facility, she said.
Research for the American Association of School Administrators found only one other school district, in Park City, Utah, that has an employe child care cooperative.
In the District and Prince George's County, school employes can obtain child care services that are administered by the regional governments, spokesmen said.
Nationally, about 3,000 companies or government agencies provide employes with child care assistance, said Dana E. Friedman, a senior research associate with the Conference Board, a New York City-based group supported by private industry.
Of those firms, only about 750 sponsor a child care facility, Friedman said. The rest provide either benefits or referral services.
The Bank Street College of Education recently surveyed about 1,200 school districts nationwide and found about 10 school systems that provide child care for their employes, said Anne W. Mitchell, codirector of the college's Public School Early Childhood Study.
The Arlington center is housed in five refurbished rooms in the former Walter Reed Elementary School in North Arlington and is designed to serve as many as 70 children from infancy to age 5. Fees range from $84 to $125 per week, depending on the child's age.
For a higher fee, parents who do not work for Arlington schools can enroll their children.
The center's teachers will be required to have degrees in early childhood education or development, said Janet M. Soohy, director of The Children's School. "Even when children are the same age, they have different ability levels. You have to follow the individual child," Soohy said.
The center also offers part-time care and an emergency dropoff for children of employes whose regular child care falls through, services that are not offered by many child care centers.
The center is operating with a $40,000 line of credit granted by the school employes' credit union but has asked the county board for a $40,000 loan, McCourt-Dirner said.
Its operators hope it will become self-supporting in two years, she said.
School employes, including some who do not have children, have donated money and supplies to the center.
"Everybody feels in some way it's good for the entire school system," McCourt-Dirner said.
Though the center has been open only a few days, the reaction has been positive. Parents praise the center's facilities and the care and attention shown by the teachers and aides.
Patricia D. Slattery, a testing specialist for the Arlington schools, said she especially values the center's willingness to take her 11-month-old daughter Claire part time, because she works part time.
"For me . . . this is one of the best options I've seen," she said. "I was incredibly pleased."