For Kris Barker, being executive director of the South Whidbey Children’s Center has been a role of both work and play.
After nearly nine years on the job, she is set to retire this May.
During her time with the Langley child development facility, she helped solve financial problems with the school, but it’s also the daily conversations with kids that have made her role meaningful.
“When I get to rock somebody to sleep or read books or sing songs, those are definitely some of the most rewarding pieces of my job,” Barker said.
She also admires the supportive staff of 25 teachers, some of who attended the South Whidbey Children’s Center as kids.
She estimates the same is true for about 50 percent of the parents sending their children to the school today. One of the teachers is accustomed to teaching two generations of kids.
Her own daughter, now in college, attended the school for youngsters when Barker’s family first moved to Whidbey Island in 2004. Barker served on the school’s board of directors from 2005 to 2008 and accepted the executive director position in 2011.
The rest is history.
Barker is leaving during the school’s 40th year of operation. She is constantly amazed by the school’s giving spirit. Although a private institution, it works to support families with lower incomes and less means.
“We’re the only center south of Coupeville that takes state subsidies and foster children,” Barker said. “It sets up apart. It’s really important because early childhood education is the great equalizer.”
She said over 40 percent of families receive tuition assistance or state subsidies.
The school also partners with Whidbey Island Nourishes, a nonprofit program providing bags of nutritious food for children during the weekends and school breaks.
Barker said she hopes the next executive director is someone with a diverse set of skills, who can administrate but also has a background in early childhood education.
“We’re tasked with finding a person who won’t mess it up, finding somebody who can honor what is already happening here and just continue to support and grow as needed,” Barker said.
She added, “We’ve got a really beautiful, sweet little school and I think it needs to stay that way.”
Barker is leaving the position to move to Eugene, Ore., which she refers to as her “little mid-life adventure,” to be closer to her daughter who competes on the college track team in McMinnville.
She said she will miss the kids the most and hopes to seek another job in early child development, perhaps as an educator.
“Working in a nursery and selling plants also sounds really exciting to me,” she said with a laugh.