A group of Wanaka parents have been left “sad and disappointed” after receiving little more than a week’s notice that their children’s early childhood education centre will be closing its doors for good.
In a meeting last Thursday, staff at Little Wonders Oanaka ECE informed parents the centre would permanently close today due to their inability to meet the Ministry of Education’s minimum staffing requirements.
Danielle Stillwell, a parent whose son attends the centre, said the decision had left 28 families scrambling to make alternative arrangements at very short notice.
“It’s disappointing, the lack of communication and transparency,” she said.
“If the owners had come to the parents earlier, we could have worked together as a community to sort of help solve the problem. And we were never given that opportunity.”
The centre is owned by Evolve Education Group, a national corporation whose brands include Little Wonders, Lollipops, Pascals and Little Earth Montessori.
In a letter sent to parents last Friday, Evolve’s chief operations officer Barry Sadlier said they “sincerely regret the short notice regarding the closure”.
“We acted promptly once we received a resignation on Monday 28 August to evaluate the other options to us and then prepared for a confidential consultation process with our team which started on Friday 1 September.”
While Mr Sadlier wrote that a “temporary closure” of the centre had been considered, this was ultimately deemed unfeasible.
“We believe it is highly unlikely that we could recruit staff to open the centre again in the near future and therefore we are not in a position to provide sustainable, stable service in the community.”
The letter also included a list of 12 other education centres in Wanaka for parents to call. In a spot check by The News on Monday, seven of those confirmed they had waitlists of varying lengths.
Kanuka Corner Early Childhood Centre, for instance, said it had a waitlist of more than 70 children, while Riverside Educare did not expect to have any available space until late 2025 at the earliest.
Another centre, Wanaexcel B4 School, confirmed it had received “over 30 inquiries” for vacancies over the weekend.
Amanda Greer, education coordinator for the charitable society Central Otago Reap, said she was saddened by the closure “in a region with already long waitlists for education and care spaces”.
“Our thoughts are with the dedicated kaiako [teachers] who have delivered quality education to the Wa ¯naka community over the years and families who are now unable to find childcare.”
For Mrs Stillwell, her son’s future education prospects remain unclear.
“We’re not really too sure what we’re going to do. Whether we just try and get some kind of babysitting or support from the family.
“It’s the rest of the community that has to pick up the pieces.
‘‘Evolve is a for-profit corporation. They’ve made a business decision, which I guess is their prerogative, but it’s a decision that affects a whole community and it makes an existing problem in the community even worse.”