The Child Care Business Podcast

Episode 13: Thriving Through Multiple ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Crises | Paula Polito

August 19, 2021 Procare Solutions
The Child Care Business Podcast
Episode 13: Thriving Through Multiple ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Crises | Paula Polito
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we chat with Paula Polito, owner of Beary Cherry Tree in New Orleans. From humble beginnings 45 years ago to a four-building, 16-classroom operation, Beary Cherry Tree is a thriving business that boasts a four-star rating, low turnover and low ratios. However, the journey hasn’t been an easy one. From navigating the loss of her house and severe building damage during Hurricane Katrina to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, Paula has seen it all. But her resilient spirit, business acumen and focus on culture have helped her weather the storm (pun intended). 

Topics we talk about with Paula include:

  • How she hires and retains teachers through culture-building, caring leadership, professional development, lower ratios and a strong focus on mental health.
  • Strategies for communicating with parents and staff in a transparent and compassionate way.
  • Her approach to the latest COVID outbreaks.
  • How she’s implemented a structure that allows for her to spend more time doing work outside the center, such as child care advocacy and earning her PhD.
  • Paula’s storied background, including spending six years as a New Orleans Saints cheerleader as well as a stint on the show “Fear Factor.” 

About Paula:

Paula is owner of Beary Cherry Tree in New Orleans. Beary Cherry Tree is a family-owned and operated day care center that is 45 years old and spans three generations. They have grown from 1,000 square feet in 1976 to what is one of the largest in the area.

Paula's center has a four-star rating from Louisiana’s Quality Start Program and is a 5210 Partner, which means her center is all about kids health, providing 5 or more fruits/vegetables, 2 hours or less of recreational screen time, 1 hour or more of physical activity and 0 soda or sweetened drinks. 

Paula is currently getting her doctorate in Urban Studies/Affairs from the University of New Orleans and has a number of certifications, including: 

  • Pathways Level 3 trainer
  • MTP Credentialed Coach
  • MMCI Trainer
  • CLASS TTT (Train the Trainer)
  • CLASS Reliable (Infant/Toddler / PreK)

She’s also the Department of Education Advisory Board Chair.

You can connect with Paula by visiting her website: or by emailing her at

Additional Resources:
To get more insights on ways to succeed in your child care business, head over to our Resource Center at

Contact Us:
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Speaker 1 (00:08):

[inaudible] welcome to the childcare business podcast brought to you by ProCare solutions. This podcast is all about giving childcare, preschool, daycare, afterschool, and other early education professionals, a fun and upbeat way to learn about strategies and inspiration you can use to thrive. You'll hear from a variety of childcare thought leaders, including educators, owners, and industry experts on ways to innovate, to meet the needs of the children you serve from practical tips for managing operations, to uplifting stories of transformation and triumph. This podcast will be chalk full and insights you can use to fully realize the potential of your childcare business. Let's jump in

Speaker 2 (00:53):

Everyone. Welcome to the childcare business podcast. My name is Ryan. Gwaltney happy to have you join us today, and I want to introduce you really quick to our guests. And then we're going to just jump right into this interview. Um, today I'm going to be talking with Paula Polito and Paula is the owner of Berry cherry tree in new Orleans. Uh, Berry cherry tree is a family owned and operated daycare center that is 45 years old and it spans three generations. They've grown from a thousand square feet when they first started in 1976 to what is now one of the largest centers in her area. Uh, Paula center has a four star rating from Louisiana's quality start program and as a five to one zero or 52 10 partner, which means her center is all about kids' health, providing five or more fruits, vegetables, two hours or less of recreational screen time, one hour or more of physical activity and zero sodas or sweetened drinks.

Speaker 2 (01:49):

We're going to talk about that, uh, on this episode for sure. Um, just a little bit about Paula, actually, even just learned a little bit more about her before we came on the air, but Paula is currently getting her doctorate in urban studies and affairs from the university of new Orleans. She has a number of certifications, just a few of them, uh, pathways level three trainer. She's an MTP credentialed coach and M M C I trainer. Uh, she is a class train the trainer and, uh, she's also part of the class reliable program for infants toddlers. And pre-K, I hope I'm saying that right. Uh, she's also, uh, department of educational advisory board chair. Um, also just learn and we're going to maybe talk about this before we get into any of the business details, but, uh, Paula is a former NFL cheerleader, so first for our show and she also at one point participated in fear factor. So, uh, Paula, welcome to the show. Yeah, it's great to have you. So I listened, we were talking for like three or four minutes before we started recording. We and I was joking around, but I wasn't joking. Ashley, I want to jump right into this. I've got to ask, talk about your NFL cheerleading career. And I also want to talk about fear factor. So tell me about what you did on fear factor.

Speaker 3 (03:10):

Absolutely. So I, um, was an NFL cheerleader for the new Orleans saints go saints. Um, for six years, met some incredible individuals. So cheerleaders and players got to do some amazing things and do what I love, which is dancing, um, and cheer our saints on. So that was an incredible journey, six years NFL, and then a nice little transition to NBC to work with Joe Rogan in an episode, and all girls episode of fear factor. So this is, you know, pre kids, um, you know, wild and fun days. And we just had a wonderful time going out to California. And one of the first ons, uh, literally hung upside down by my ankles from a helicopter and was dumped into a body of water and grabbed flags. And so I, I'm proud to say that I did make it past that round. And that's the next round.

Speaker 3 (04:07):

If, if everyone remembers is where you eat or ingest crazy things. Um, and so yes, there was a conveyor belt of some very interesting items like pig intestines and cows spine and all these crazy cold wet discussing things. And those things needed to be transferred into a bowl. And the three girls with the highest weight got to that final round. Unfortunately I did not pay the, make it to the next round. I did the staunch just to be very clear. Um, I did do the song, but it just didn't get enough weight in the bowl to move to the next round, which was a human hamster wheel, which I would've loved to do over water. And you just kind of run on that. So, uh, it just a great experience. I love to do things that you know, are going to be fun and new and exciting. So that was a wonderful opportunity.

Speaker 2 (05:02):

This translates really well to the industry we're in which we will talk about. But I do have to ask about the fear factor. Maybe we're going to get derailed this whole conversation, but for fear factor, how did you audition? And did you actually know for those, you know, I don't think that shows on TV anymore, but I remember it, you know, earlier maybe was this early two thousands when it was a thing, but did you have to audition

Speaker 3 (05:25):

And three in great questions, Ryan? Absolutely. So what what's kind of funny again, free and fun, loving attitude back before we had my husband and I had any children and we were, it was Mati girl. We were walking down St. Charles avenue and the fear factor boss was there and I was said, oh, what the hell? Let's go ahead and sign up and stop what NFL cheerleader and how much fun would this be? Immediately got a call back. I went to a hotel, did an audition. I actually sang Barney for the audition. They said, sing a song. I said, well, I don't really sing, but here we go. When we went into a nice little, you know, Barney song and I guess that's how they fell in love with me. And I'm on my honeymoon. I got a call from NBC saying, okay, so we've actually chosen you to be on fear factor.

Speaker 3 (06:14):

And then I said, oh, what have I done? So I had to actually think about it for a few minutes, but, um, I'm very competitive and I love a challenge. And so there, I went out to LA and had a great time. And so your second question, did you know what you are about to do when you see the faces on the participants? It's truly the first time they're seeing that. So the first episode, and I vividly remember Joe saying, you know, you walk out of your trailer and we're on the side of a mountain. And he says, you will hang by your ankles from a helicopter. And you know, all the girls were looking at the helicopter thinking, oh wow. So it's literally that what you see us, the reaction is, is really the reaction it's

Speaker 2 (07:03):

Valid. And so what last question may be last question about fear factor. What number? What number were you from hanging from the helicopter. Did you go first, second, third. Did you get to see people go first? Yeah,

Speaker 3 (07:15):

I did see people go first. So I started developing a strategy of how I was going to keep the flags. I want to say I was probably third or fourth. I wasn't first and I wasn't black.

Speaker 2 (07:27):

Okay. So you got a chance. You got the benefit of seeing other people go first, got to build a strategy. Nice.

Speaker 3 (07:32):

I did. I did. Yes. It was a really fun experience. And you know, life is a journey. And so I say, I want to walk away from this journey, doing everything possible. I could. And it was definitely a fun time.

Speaker 2 (07:47):

Nice. And then it may be, I'm making this part up, but just for the fun of it, you had two options in terms of podcasts you could participate on. It was either to go to the Joe Rogan podcast, which a few people have heard about, or to be part of the childcare business podcast and ProCare. And you chose us. Absolutely.

Speaker 3 (08:04):

I mean, it, it, there was just no comparison. It was definitely Ryan and Francy with ProCare.

Speaker 2 (08:11):

I love it. Okay. Perfect. And so talk to me about, I do want to talk about growing up, are you from new Orleans, born and raised? Cause I know that the business, which I I've said this a couple of times already we'll get to is a family business. That sounds like it's been a part of kind of your upbringing, but is that right? Are you from new Orleans, born and raised, been there your whole born

Speaker 3 (08:31):

And raised in new Orleans, a girl from new Orleans. Those never leave new Orleans. And so here I am 47 on Sunday, 47 years later. And yes, it grew up in the industry. So my grandmother started cherry tree in 1971. My mother worked alongside of her and I remember being brought to the center when she opened the center at six in the morning. I mean, you know, Paula go check on things. When I was a teenager throughout high school, I worked at my set at my mother center, afterschool and swore I was not going to do childcare.

Speaker 2 (09:08):

Yeah. That's what I was going to ask you. That's what I was going to ask you. Did you, did you think you were going to follow in their footsteps or it was always like I'm going to do something totally different.

Speaker 3 (09:16):

I was going to definitely get out of this industry. I was going to do something broader or bigger. I wanted more scope. I wanted to change the world. So I went to the university of new Orleans. I got my undergraduate degree in marketing, went on and got my MBA. And then my mother in 1999 said, well, don't you want to purchase the center? And my husband who was my fiance then said, well, of course you do, you know this business. And I said, oh yes, exactly why I don't want to purchase. Um, you know, again, my mother ran a center, we were open seven days a week. We were open till midnight staffing, you know, the liability involved there. So many different pieces of this very specialized industry that, you know, most people aren't privy to. And, um, I kind of saw it growing up and the difficulties involved in it.

Speaker 3 (10:04):

Well after much thought, um, in, in August of 1999, I closed the deal, purchase the center from my mother. And, um, when I pulled up, you know, Ryan, I remember this very clearly. I pulled up to the center after leaving the bank that day and looked, it was rather large. We had three buildings. We had about 12,000 square feet at the time. And I said, I want this to be the very best for every kid I serve given that I had a background in business and only saw what I grew up with. And didn't exactly know what did the best look like? And so we work towards a NACY accreditation because back in the early two thousands, there was no standard or quality in Louisiana. So we got a NAC accreditation, learned a lot, again, part of this journey to growth in quality. So throughout that process, we began to lower ratios.

Speaker 3 (10:58):

We began to get teacher qualifications, um, you know, center-based curriculum, things like this. And then Louisiana implemented what's called the Louisiana quality rating scale. So it was similar to NACY, but had a few other sort of tenants to it. Uh, Jeff Nagel, Dr. Nagel worked with Louisiana. We, we did some really creative and progressive things in Louisiana around school readiness tax credits, and really began to legitimize our work. So then in 2012, we had superintendent John White come into the picture again, very progressive forward-thinking individual who said, it's time, we're going to change this entire landscape. And he and an incredible team did just that with the help of course, the, the childcare providers. And so we implemented, or they implemented what's called act three. And a lot of that qualify, those qualifications, you, the class trainer and reliable and MTP and M are all around, which would teach stone, puts out.

Speaker 3 (12:00):

Um, it's a research-based tool. And I have to say this tool has been really a game changer for the childcare industry. So, um, part of the, it's just been a very long journey. ProCare of course, was something that software program is something we, my mother used early, early on. So, um, it's funny she's 71 and still very tech savvy. So she brought that before ProCare was cool thing to do. And, um, few years ago I did some additional things within system that really created some efficiencies that we needed. So again, to partner with our, our work in the field and in the classrooms, um, it's just been great stuff.

Speaker 2 (12:43):

Yeah. That's amazing because you're right. If your mom had already purchased software, when you bought the school in 1999, she was definitely ahead of her time because we still, I mean, our industry to your point, you know, is still, we talk about it all the time. It's not, when we talk about progressive, meaning just, you know, there's a lot of the educators who just love kids and are passionate about education and teaching and the business side of, of actually doing that well, and it has not always been at the front of mind for a lot of childcare owners because it's like, look, my passion is, is what I do in the business. There's more, I think, um, you know, more awareness around in order to do that. Well, I have to be able to run the business side of things as well. When you talk about, I'm curious, you were talking about the new superintendents that have come in in your area and really driven some initiatives to improve outcomes. When you talk about improving the whole system was the, was the, the symptom of that, that kids just weren't getting prepared when they were going into school and the outcomes for students weren't where they needed to be. Or was it just more like we're not providing great places for teachers to work? W what were the things that were going on that, that you guys felt like really had to improve?

Speaker 3 (13:54):

I think we had some very brilliant people get into important positions back then and realize that the current state of what we were doing needed to improve that was teacher pay. That was child outcomes. I think the whole host of things, but it took some certain individuals to say, we're going to fund this. We're going to put money behind this, and we're going to push this effort. And so that's what happened back in 2012. Now, again, we have a change of guards two years ago, I believe Dr. Bromley, who has continued to improve that work. And of course, we've got COVID, which, you know, everyone is dealing with. And, and I appreciate the, the funding and the emphasis that the national government has placed in, you know, within our industry, because they understand how important it is. It's still been very difficult, but we are priority. They are prioritizing, which helps us again, I think legitimize the work we're doing.

Speaker 2 (14:55):

Yeah, you're right. I mean, I think one of the things we've talked about on a few of these episodes, too, that that has happened over the past year is there has been a spotlight shined on our industry, you know, the real necessity of it in order for the economy to get back on track and families, to be able to get back to work. And, um, so the funding is a piece of that, but also just being able to have an awareness around, like, this is really critical work and it's, it's essential to, you know, most families in America being able to get back to work and kind of get back on track. So, um, I agree what, when you look back to 1999 and you bought the school, just kind of going back to that for a minute, do you remember? So he drove from the bank, came over to the school, which obviously it sounds like it's the same physical property that your, your grandma's started in 1971. Is that

Speaker 3 (15:40):

Right? So actually it is the same physical property that my mother purchased in the eighties. So she and my grandmother worked in different locations. Um, and then my mother went on our own in the eighties and worked sort of alongside. So there were two physical locations, but what I purchased was where my mother began and she grew, so she and my father are both in education. My father is secondary, she was early childhood. And so they purchased one small house. Like most people do, right. I love kids. I want to, and she didn't think she could feel it. Well, she feel that Lea, needless to say, but the property right next door renovated, or actually knocked it down and completely, um, renovate or made a new building built brand new. Um, which of course during hurricane Katrina, there's you no rebar and the cinder blocks on one side of the buildings.

Speaker 3 (16:31):

So that entire side of the building came down, but that's for a later part of the show. So yes, I'm built brand new, um, for childcare, which was, you know, again, early nineties, then she and my father bought an apartment complex behind. I mean, we just, it was very interesting to see the way it was situated. Exactly. And then fast forward to Katrina. My husband and I lived in lake view, we were pregnant for our first child. We pulled up, we had no house because that got lost in Katrina, completely flooded. After a levy break, we pulled up one of the walls of the main building was on the ground. And my husband says, I think we should buy these three, four Plex is better right next to it. I'm like, let me figure out who owns it. And so I think he and I combined, we are great business partners. He has nothing to do with childcare. He is a physical therapist by trade and owned his own company, but I'm very business savvy. And so we then bought three fourplexes, one, which we renovated three years ago to make it, um, you know, make it childcare. So we are currently in four buildings, 16 classrooms, 14,000 square feet.

Speaker 2 (17:44):

Wow. And so all typically are kind of on the same campus that we might say, so located in the same area, but you just kind of gradually acquired properties in that area to be able to expand the school.

Speaker 3 (17:55):

That's exactly right. All fenced in one location and you go in one door and you access all the other buildings through that one door.

Speaker 2 (18:04):

Amazing. And so did you, when you bought the school, like in 99 and you drove up to the building, was there a list I'm just curious if you look back now. So I guess my mass, right, is that what, 22 years or so that you've owned it maybe 23 years. Um, were there some items from day one that you knew, like these are the things that I want to focus the business on to improve? Like you had a punch list of things or was it more like you've jumped in, got a lay of the land and then identified that, you know, these are the areas I want to focus on, or do you remember like what your first moves were as a new owner?

Speaker 3 (18:37):

Absolutely. It was. Let me understand. And that's interesting. That's a great question because the work I do now is really 40% outside of my business, but I couldn't step outside until I knew I had a well-oiled machine in place. And to get that well-oiled machine one, I needed to identify what best practices look like. Two, I needed to understand what I was given and what I was working with. So my teachers, my team, the culture, the, you know, the ratios, things like that. So again, part of that journey, but it wasn't like I'm going in to do this, this, and this was really sitting back understanding what is the current culture? Where are we at now? And where do we want to strive to be?

Speaker 2 (19:27):

Yeah. Like that. So for other owners who maybe, or potential owners, cause I think, you know, individuals that listened to our, our show, you know, a lot of owners, a lot of directors, maybe people looking to get into the industry, like how do you remember how you ended up getting the staff at that time? So 1999, I'm sure you inherited staff that your mom had worked with. I'd love to hear a little bit about tenure. Was it difficult for you with an ownership change to get the staff on board with your vision? Or did that just come naturally or did you actually have to build out a new team? Was that part of the process for you to in the early days?

Speaker 3 (20:02):

So we, to this day have one employee who has been with me for 29 years. So she was my mother. Yeah. Um, I've got people

Speaker 2 (20:12):

Shout out really quick.

Speaker 3 (20:15):

Sylvia levy. She is, um, one of my infant teachers who back in the day, what was the ratio like Devin eight to one in Louisiana and Sylvia was incredible. Now we're at a lovely four to one ratio and she rocks that like no, none other. So yeah, she is absolutely wonderful and has been with me for 28 years. So we inherited staff, but those teachers knew me. And, um, they knew I spent a lot of time with them and they knew how I, as a person and they began to understand how it was as a leader. Um, and so part of our attempt, um, you know, movement to quality included, NACY accreditation and some monthly meetings and sort of, you know, here's how we have to bring us as a team up. And I remember sharing with some of like, this is the, this is if you want to get on this bus, this is the direction we're moving. I'm going to support you as we go there, but this is where we're going. And you've got to think about it, the industry back then, you know, there was not as much research as there is now around brain development. What's important. And we know we do X, Y, and Z. These children are going to be successful in first, second, third grade. We've got that data now. So that's been incredibly helpful that we've got now something to support the very work we do.

Speaker 2 (21:39):

Yeah. And has that become more of like, in terms of, as you guys look at changes that have happened between how you bring teachers on and how you support them in the classrooms? Is that a big difference between that was one of the questions I was going to ask you between now and when you first started that there's actually data and science behind what you're doing. Absolutely.

Speaker 3 (21:58):

Again, I defer to teach stone who has put out just incredible data, a tool called the, um, classroom assessment scoring system. So in Louisiana, all type three, which means publicly funded childcare centers are held accountable for the work we do. If we're going to get public funds, then we are going to be held accountable as we should. And so what happens is every fall and every spring, every single classroom, whether you have one child that's publicly funded or not, that classroom is going to get observed using the class tool. That class tool is so wonderful because it is grounded in interactions, interactions between teachers and children, because we know the interactions matter. So our teachers have all been trained on this tool. We don't just get an observation. And my teachers look at each other like, what are they looking for? We give lots and lots of professional development to our teachers.

Speaker 3 (22:57):

Not only because we want them to score well on the observation, but because we know when a teacher is in often close proximity to children, when they're aware and responsive to children, when there's an organized environment for children to work in, and a lot of concept development, analysis, and reasoning, when we put all these things together, offer intentionality in a consistent way. We are going to have children who are successful. So that's basically what we have done. Um, this tool is like none other in the past. I mean, I remember in the days we're going to, you know, professional development about messy play and, and that's all fine and dandy. But as a MBA, this was the first professional development that asked that in and said, I want, and I want every one of my teachers to have that.

Speaker 2 (23:48):

Yeah. I like that. Is that something that you said that's required in Louisiana or is it something that's optional for? If you're state funded, if you're receiving any state funds you have to participate in that it

Speaker 3 (23:58):

Absolutely is. So licensing in Louisiana is lots of fun. There are three tiers of licensure. So type one licensed centers take no public funds type two licensed centers are strictly, um, centers that take the child and adult care food program, type three centers, again, take public funds. It could be a childcare assistance program. It could be a, uh, preschool development grant, any military funds, any sort of funding, but again, those centers are the ones that will get that observation Dawn in the fall and the spring.

Speaker 2 (24:31):

Got it. And is that part of you use that as part of your, and this might be a little segue into talking a little bit about staffing and current climate and culture and things that we're hearing around, you know, staffing in the industry, is that, is that a draw for you as you like recruit teachers and have, you know, the programs that you have in place and building into their careers, their professional development. Do you use that as part of your recruitment of teachers and then maybe a followup to that? Paula is how, how are things going staffing wise for you and what are you finding is working or maybe not working that you can share with others?

Speaker 3 (25:09):

Yes. So I think any potential teacher that walks into my office and interviews, if they want what's best for children, that's a selling point for them to know that we are a center that goes through accountability, measures such as class. They know they're walking into a place that does great things for children that really focuses the emphasis is on interactions. So that's one piece of it. The other very nice fruit to hang in front of these teachers is Louisiana. I mentioned it earlier, they offer what's called a school readiness tasks credit that school readiness tax credit is only eligible for those teachers who work in type three child development centers. And what that is is if that teacher is employed for at least six months in that center and has what they call an ancillary certificate. So if the teacher comes to me with a CDA associates degree bachelor's degree, they automatically get an ancillary certificate. If they don't. I get them on a path to guest that once they get the CDA or at the base level CDA, they are then eligible for school readiness tax credit. That tax credit is no joke. It starts off at $1,600, and then it tops off at a level four at $3,600 every single year. If that teacher is continuous staying in the industry at a type three center, they are getting a refundable tax credit for $3,600.

Speaker 2 (26:37):

Wow. That's amazing. Is that a federal tax credit that would be eligible across all 50 states or is that specific to Louisiana? That

Speaker 3 (26:43):

Is a little wheezy. Anna's very progressive approach that we put in place. Um, with the, uh, again, some brilliant minds back in 2012 or actually prior, prior to 2012, cause that was around the Louisiana quality rating scale. And so they tied quality in childcare centers to, again, the school readiness tax credit. So only in Louisiana only type three centers.

Speaker 2 (27:10):

So listen, if you're listening to the podcast and you own or operate or run, or are, uh, you know, somehow involved in a childcare center, Louisiana, look into that tax credit for your teachers. Cause that's the big, I mean, a, it should help you, you know, really recruit or at least have that as part of what you're talking with potential teachers about, but it also is something that you can educate them on and help them prepare for it because take advantage of it. It's there, the state's made it available. You just gotta make sure you check the boxes, right.

Speaker 3 (27:39):

That's exactly right. And the state has been very clear. Any owner who's been operating in this landscape for five minutes is, should be aware of the school readiness tax credit. It's been around for a long time and there's a lot of material and promotion around the school readiness tax credit.

Speaker 2 (27:55):

Awesome. What about teachers right now? Are you guys, I mean, we keep hearing this Paula and I know one of the things I think in, in doing a little bit of research about your school, and you've already touched on this a little bit, that you guys have been really fortunate with your staff and your team in terms of tenure and longevity. Are you, is that still the case for you or are you finding it harder to find quality teachers talk a little bit about the environment new Orleans right now?

Speaker 3 (28:21):

Absolutely. And I'll share a little piece of information that has always stuck with me. So probably 2014, 2015, I was coming down the steps of one of the, um, buildings, the Clayborne building in Baton Rouge, where lots of rules are made and lots of work is done. And the assistant superintendent pulled me to the side and she said, Paula, what's your secret sauce? And I looked at her and I said, Jenna, Jenna Conway, incredible. She's in Virginia. Now. She says, well, what, how do you, how do you do your work so well, what, how did you people say, why does it just work so well for you? And so it's been interesting for me to try to identify and pull apart all the ingredients that are in that secret sauce. I think the biggest piece of that Ryan is the culture that we have at our center.

Speaker 3 (29:09):

Our culture is one of respect, respect between teachers and teachers respect between teachers and children, families, and teachers. That is a bottom line. You're not going to come to very cherry tree and have anything less than that. Beyond that. I think I am really good at listening as a leader in my organization. Um, I listen a lot. I find that that's where you learn the most, um, and really identify what the teacher's needs are. It is such difficult industry, um, for so many reasons, the pay and we're hopefully a lot of the funding that has come our way. Of course it is position to me to increase. Um, many of my teachers pay. Um, and we're hoping to do more of that, but the pay in and of itself is very difficult. So we like to offer many other opportunities for our teachers, free childcare, health insurance, 401k, holiday pay, vacation pay, so anything we can do to support our teachers.

Speaker 3 (30:09):

Um, we try to do that in addition to offering them an environment where there's smaller ratios. So we're not overwhelmed with Louisiana law allows 11 two year olds to one teacher. That's a lot of two-year-olds it's mind blowing. Exactly. So at our center, we offer a one to five ratio, five, two year olds to one teacher. That's part of the teacher's mental health. If I have to go eight, nine hours a day with 11 two year olds, I'm going to run far after I walk out of that building. So I think it's looking at the teacher as a whole and trying to support each one. That's gotten difficult, um, because of COVID people are extremely anxious now, um, since June 1st, 2020, when we reopened, um, never in the history of my childcare center, had we ever closed? We closed our doors on March 15. Once we had the good graces of the department of health, Louisiana department of health, office of public health.

Speaker 3 (31:06):

We've had some wonderful people supporting the childcare industry. We went ahead and opened on June one. And when I tell you, Ryan, I have been yelled at, I haven't been cursed at, I've been cried to I've been hugged. I mean the emotions, and this is not only from teachers. This is from parents and families. People are anxious, people are concerned, they're scared. Um, and so again, it's been a lot of listening, a lot of supporting with the unemployment the way it was. We offered a lot of flexibility to our teachers work a half day. I mean, we really just tried to get as creative as we could keeping our teachers mental health at the forefront of all decisions that we made.

Speaker 2 (31:50):

Yeah. I mean, you, you, you bring up a really good point because you know, the other challenge with that is everybody's situation was different, right? It's not like you were able to make one policy of how we were going to navigate, you know, this pandemic and how it impacted each teacher. Like, I'm sure you had to do things over the past year that were completely different than you've ever done before. And every teacher was different. Right?

Speaker 3 (32:13):

I can't agree more. Um, I'm a big Bernay brown founds fan. So clear as timed. And we tried to be as clear as possible with the limited information we had. So we had a big team meeting with masks on prior to June, this is what it's going to look like. This is everything we've received from the department of health. We know this is scary. We've never done this before, but we want to work with you and partner with, to make this a successful transition from staying at home, to opening our center back up in the safest way possible. So with all that put in place, um, you know, we, we have been open since June, once with the exception of a quarantine and here and there, but you know, our teachers, um, again, I think when, when a leader listens, those teachers trust that leader and over 25 years I've gained their trust. And so people were coming back in, um, I lost one teacher, um, who had retired, but other than that, we still have all of our teachers back. I mean, we've got a little fluctuation here and there, but for the most part, we've got our core team back and we are doing phenomenal.

Speaker 2 (33:26):

Yeah. That's amazing. I mean, to just lose one through that through retirement and you know, we've heard stories where people have decided to make career changes and choices and you know, like you said, are you still hearing from your staff? Is there, uh, anxiety around just even like being in the classroom and germs? Are those the types of things? Is that a common theme that you have to address even like in interviews or are you finding that that's starting to kind of fade away and I don't know what getting back to normal actually means or what, what that means for each individual school, but are you still hearing that?

Speaker 3 (33:59):

So in interviews months ago, we did, what are your policies? What are your approaches? What have you all put in place? Um, so we had that things seemed to die down, but in the past month and a half things have kicked up again. And we see a lot of national attention on this. COVID affecting young children. And needless to say, lots of our parents are concerned. I feel like our teachers based on what I'm hearing them say, feel somewhat barred because they have the vaccine, um, or they've had Cove. And I got this I'm okay. Um, since January we have only needed to quarantine one class. Um, and so that that's pretty good. And it was a child, uh, positive. Child's perfectly fine, a little bit of fever. So, you know, it's still, again with that, we're hearing on the news, the doubts of Erin and it's more contagious and it's this. And I mean, people, we, we feel that anxiety bubbling up a bit more, but I think because we've done it once and we feel competent in our efforts, we have not changed any of our efforts. We are still staying in static groups. We're mitigating risk by eating lunch in our classrooms. Or let's say, we're doing hand washing more often cleaning touch points, you know? So all these things that we've been advised by the state to do, we've done, we've not stopped that. So,

Speaker 2 (35:21):

Yeah. Excellent. And I mean, it has, when we talk with owners a lot, I mean, I was thinking this as you were just talking, like, we've talked a lot about the impact it's had to their staff and to their directors and how they've had to navigate that. But that's also a huge strain on, on owners as well. I mean, like listening to you talk about trying to keep everybody else really, you know, strong through this. Parents are struggling. Teachers are struggling and the reality is as owners as well, like not only have you had to like be therapists and be owner and help people navigate, but it's also had financial and business implications. Have you, have you felt that, I mean, just, you know, over the past year for you, I mean just when you leave the building and childcare for the day is over, I'm sure it's, it's had an impact as well on, on owners.

Speaker 3 (36:12):

Oh, absolutely. I mean, March of 2020, when I walked out of that center on Friday, one of the last questions I asked, one of my teachers is, are you going to be okay if I can't pay you because you have to go, are you going to be okay? And she's like, absolutely, we're going to be. And so I walked out of there and March, I was not charging parents for our service. I couldn't provide, I didn't know what I was going to do, Ryan, but I certainly wasn't gonna, uh, you know, go that route. I encouraged every one of my teachers that Sunday get on unemployment because we are going to do what's safest, which is to stay home at this point. Um, so March looks very different than fast forward to March of 2021 because of some incredible work, um, and research John by Louisiana policy Institute to gather data on childcare centers are shutting down. They can't afford the closures. Um, and Louisiana department of ed has really stepped up their game and funded childcare industry prioritized our industry and given them bonds, which has been incredibly helpful, the protection pay paycheck protection plan, um, the department of education, federal funding, the grants that we have received have really positioned us to survive.

Speaker 2 (37:31):

Yeah. Survive it. And, and I think, you know, I mean, it's the nature of people like yourself and other owners that we've talked to like are like excited about the future. Like, you know what I mean? It's been challenging and there's been a lot of adversity and, you know, I mean, it sounds cliche and you know, maybe it's been overstated, but you know, you, you actually grow a lot through adversity and you build strength through adversity in it, it seems like that's a theme. Like the more we talk with, with our customers and with owners that, um, you know, we just don't hear a lot of like we're quitting and it was too much and we're giving up, it's just kind of like, you know, what, we're, we're digging in. And we actually are looking at how we got better through this. Right?

Speaker 3 (38:08):

Absolutely. I think most owners, especially in an organization of my size, Ryan, these pills, people just innately are resilient. These are not quitters. And we do not work in an industry that's for the faint of heart. Right. I mean, any director owner is typically wearing 20 different hats on one given day. So it wasn't necessarily easy, but they're resilient. Um, I had a piece a few, well, right after, uh, COVID began, um, that was published and, you know, or shared, not published, but shared in, um, a local paper just about resilience. And you know, we're going to get through this. We did it during Katrina. This is a little different because there is no end in sight. Um, but you're talking about women for the most part who, um, absolutely dig their heels in and we're going to get it done and we're going to do it better than we did before.

Speaker 2 (39:02):

Yeah. We're going to go. Did you ever think I'm after? Cause I know you referenced Katrina earlier, so that was, it was it 2004 is my memory right. Was Katrina 2005 and your building was affected. It sounds like your own personal home was destroyed. Do you ever think that you would go through something as significant in your career as, as Katrina?

Speaker 3 (39:27):

I always said if another Katrina came, I would not be able to do it. And um, well here I am. Um, and we are a year plus in COVID, but you know, a lot of deep breaths, you said w how do you, as an owner work, you know, work with this. It's, it's a lot of, a lot of debriefing, a lot of, um, just trying to get perspective, um, a lot of walks outside yoga, you know, those sorts of things to keep me grounded, because again, I mean, people are looking at me to lead and I can't go in there frazzled and upset and anxious, even though that might be how I'm feeling. I've got to be calm for the people that I lead.

Speaker 2 (40:11):

Yeah. Yeah. It's good. It's good. It's good advice for anybody that's gone through having to lead any group or any individual to, you know, people are looking to your right. And there's a reason why you're in that seat and to keep, keep moving forward and getting better. What is like, as you look forward now for your school, I just, I know we have just a couple of minutes left of time, but as you look at the rest of 20, 21, 20, 22, 20, 23, like, is your, is your mind focused on like, what's next? Like, are you, do you focus still on like growing your business? Is it continuing to focus on outcomes of, you know, students, like what's, what's next for your school as you guys look, look down the next year or two,

Speaker 3 (40:50):

So two perspectives. So from the perspective of growing the business and the business itself, absolutely. It is constantly layering, constantly providing professional development for my entire team. Um, it's not just one and done, oh yeah, you got this class on the class tool. You're good. You know, it's, how do we create more intentionality around instructional support, which is of course been difficult because everything's been virtual and that's maybe not always the best delivery. Um, so consistently, um, supporting teachers on getting better in their interactions with that coupled, um, coupled with that is going to be increased in PE, which we are going to be positioned to do. Um, because of the funding that the department has a lot of us, the federal funding, state funding. And so I am very excited, probably more excited about that than anything. Um, because these ladies are incredible and they deserve to be, um, you know, um, reimbursed appropriately.

Speaker 3 (41:50):

Um, there is some potential, uh, of growing that business. So that second apartment complex located to where we're at now, um, is, is, um, a potential, uh, some growth. There we are, uh, we, we did receive funding. And so that part of that funding is stabilization of childcare and potential growth of childcare. So we, we, once we get our teachers raises in place, then that is, um, potentially a next step. So that's growth. Uh, you know, when it comes to the childcare center personally, uh, you shared earlier, I was I'm working on my PhD. So again, getting the well-oiled machine in place at Berry cherry tree is what I spent about 15, 20 years doing. And then I began to sort of get pulled outside of my organization. Paula, come sit on this board, Paula, come chair, this board. And I have found that it's so it's, so it's something I'm very passionate about advocacy and policy around early care and education.

Speaker 3 (42:50):

And so it sort of speaks to what I wanted to do before. I said, I don't want to run this childcare center, wanted to do something that had a bigger scope. And so I feel like I've got that well-oiled machine in place at Berry cherry tree. And my work in Baton Rouge, my work with some national partners has allowed me to sort of do bigger things within this industry that I am so very familiar with. My PhD is just going to position me to have those conversations, um, you know, with different national experts that I wouldn't have normally been able to do before.

Speaker 2 (43:23):

Yeah, I like that because you know, a lot of, it seems like a lot of owners that we talked to that have found success in this space and then, you know, kind of move to that point in their career where, like you said, Hey, my business is operating. We've kind of got this machine. That's moving. You know, we've seen a lot of people transition into consultancy and helping other providers, but I kinda like what you're saying, if I hear it right. Like you, maybe there is some of that for you, but it's actually even at a higher, like in a state and a legislation level where, you know, you have a passion to go advocate on behalf of all providers in terms of policy and funding and those types of things.

Speaker 3 (43:55):

Exactly. Right. Um, then up in Baton Rouge at the Capitol, many legislative sessions pushing for best practices for early care and education. Um, and there's just so much that comes from that. And I I've really enjoyed that. And even working with those national partners start early Teachstone who, um, just do incredible work and I love to learn. So learning more about our industry.

Speaker 2 (44:18):

Yeah. Is that something that any, just as a quick plug for any childcare provider in any state, in terms of getting involved with their state associations, is it as easy as just like for you to give a plug, like go put your voice in a place where you can contribute to the overall like momentum of the industry?

Speaker 3 (44:37):

Yes, absolutely. Every childcare owner should be advocating for our little people and they can do that at the very basic level of a, of a local chamber. So for us, it's the Jefferson parish, um, the Jefferson chamber of commerce. Um, but then even on a state level, there are typically, um, NACY is a national association for education of young children, their typical, you know, um, state associations, um, of education. So find out where that policy piece is. Um, and even to share, this is what a day looks like in my life, and this is what we need. This is how we need to get better. And yes, I definitely encourage anybody in the industry who wants to have a bigger voice to,

Speaker 2 (45:19):

To get involved. Good. Good, good. Maybe final note, maybe not the final note, because the most important question I want to ask that you're already laughing. Cause you know, this isn't about business, but I'm going back to the new Orleans saints. So six years, what was the greatest game that you participated in when you were part of the saints organization? Is there one that stands out or maybe

Speaker 3 (45:44):

So I got on, uh, made the team after everybody was wearing bags on their head. Like the bags were coming off the last year I danced, we, it was an of course shame on me for not remembering who we played. Um, but we got into the playoffs. And so that was my last year on the team. And it's hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm you feel on the field. I mean, you're hearing helmets crashing you're in front of 60,000 fans that are all, I mean, it's so hard to describe. So, um, every time you stepped on that field, if that game got good, it was, it was going to be just, you know, so

Speaker 2 (46:29):

Yeah, you could feel the energy well and St spans are pretty passionate. The Superdome gets rocking, right. And this was, we don't play, we don't play. And this was pre drew breeze then. So then you got to, you got to go through the era of winning a Superbowl and being there, part of that, that season. Yeah,

Speaker 3 (46:45):

It was in the stands, but it was still, I do remember the first game after Katrina. I mean, everybody in those stands had chills. You've got drew breeze on the field, the energy and excitement that everybody felt, because like you said, we're very passionate about our team to be back in that doom and to be playing football was just, I mean, I think my husband might've been frying don't it was an emotional experience. It was a very emotional experience for people who are typically non-emotional. Um, so it was, yeah. I mean just some incredible times in the day.

Speaker 2 (47:20):

Yeah. Well, I know, I appreciate you sharing that sounds like, um, I mean, obviously everything you did prior to being in the industry, super exciting, it, fun to hear some of your story. Um, and I just want to thank you for participating in our show. You know, we, um, I think a lot of what you share Paul is going to resonate with our audience. And, you know, obviously if people did want to find you, I know you guys have a website, if others in Louisiana wanted to get involved in like getting their voice out there, is there, is there an easy way that people could contact you or find you or be a part of what you're kind of working on at the state

Speaker 3 (47:52):

Level? Absolutely. Yeah. So our website is www dot Barry, D E a R Y cherry And my email and I'm very accessible. Via email is Paula P a U L a M Polito, P O L I T

Speaker 2 (48:11):

Awesome. We appreciate you sharing. Thank you so much for your time. Have a great rest of your day.

Speaker 3 (48:15):

Thanks so much, Ryan. I appreciate the opportunity.

Speaker 1 (48:19):

Thank you for listening to this episode of the childcare business podcast, to get more insights on ways to succeed in your childcare business, make sure to hit subscribe in your podcast app. So you never miss an episode. And if you want even more childcare business tips, tricks and strategies, head over to our resource until next time. Um,