|The Pagoda Research Centre||
CELC circa 2001
The Pagoda is part of Cambridge Early Learning Centre, which was itself established in 1976. The original service operated out of the Union Parish Hall and was known as the Cambridge Childcare Centre. In 1979 the Cambridge Childcare Centre (charitable) Trust was formed to oversee the community-based service at about the same time as the move to the present site on Fort Street. Back then, the single story purpose-built building catered for the needs of 31 children between the ages of 12 months and 7 years.
A 15-place infant unit was added in 1994, by which time the service employed 12 full-time staff and a small army of relievers to provide all-day care for babies and children (0-5 years). By the mid-1990s future demand for all-day childcare services was predicted to increase on the back of increased employment, but government cuts had already led to the closure of many community-based centres. The Trust realised that a larger full-time-employed workforce would mean fewer parents to help with fundraising and they would soon also be demanding quality ‘edu-care’ services for their own children. The opening of the first privately-owned centre alerted the Trust to some serious competition - a new Centre vision was clearly required.
Dr Eric Deakins, as the new Trust Chairperson in 1995, had long discussions with the teaching team at a time when staff employed in the sector were generally poorly paid, suffered from low self-esteem, and lacked pride in their organisation and chosen profession (even though they were very passionate about their role as carers and educators). Parents also often viewed teaching staff as little more than paid babysitters who were not there to educate, and were assumed (somehow) to be not on a par with 'real teachers'.
Every member of the team was asked to think about their own vision for the Centre and what achieving it would mean for them personally. This enabled a shared centre vision to be agreed, which still stands today:
“... to be the leader in early childhood care and educational services in New Zealand by setting an example of exemplary practice and service.”
The name of the organisation was also changed to emphasise a stronger focus on preschooler education, and the professional development programme was greatly accelerated. Planning then began in earnest for the expansion and total refurbishment of Cambridge Early learning Centre. Within 5 years the new mindset resulted in new facilities, policies and reward practices that enabled the organisation to compete very successfully against other (privately-owned) providers via a strategy of highest quality and responsiveness to parent and children needs.
Highlights included total refurbishment of the facilities in 1999, when the Castle identity was created; an unbroken series of excellent Education Review Office audit reports; and the hiring of some 22 professional staff in spite of a highly competitive labour market. The latest extension to the Castle, featuring the distinctive blue dragon's eye, was completed in 2011.
The continuing non-negotiable emphasis on excellence and professionalism ensures that most of the teachers are fully trained and registered, and continue to receive ongoing professional development. Parents’ views are frequently sought so that the organisation can respond rapidly to concerns and requests, and the enabling back-office support systems are mostly automated. In 2010 the CELC kitchen was upgraded to commercial standard and a specialist was retained to prepare a set of nutritionally-balanced menus for the children's full meal service that started in early-2011.
Cambridge Early Learning Centre remains the town's only all-day community-based early childhood centre that is registered by the Ministry of Education to provide education to children between the ages of 0-5 years. It enjoys strong demand for its well-respected services and it currently provides licensed preschool education for 80 children as well as a popular holiday programme for children of Primary School age.