Westboro Nursery School, which has been a part of the Westboro community since 1968, will be closing, permanently, when the school year ends in June.
WNS, which is a co-operative preschool program for children aged 2½ to 5 years of age, has operated within Dovercourt Recreation Centre for the past 25 years.
Lydia Klein, the current president of Westboro Nursery School board, was not part of the WNS board during the original discussions with Dovercourt.
Klein, whose son currently attends the school and her daughter would have attended next year, is saddened by the decision.
“It breaks my heart that it’s not going to be there,” says Klein. “The nursery school has been an integral part of the community. Over 3000 children have passed through its doors over the past 45 years.”
“Their rationale to us was that it wasn’t in line with their mission,” she says. “Their mission, as I understand it, is to support healthy living in their community. To me that doesn’t exclude young children’s healthy lives.”
After the board’s decision not to renew the lease, Klein tried to find alternate space but wasn’t able to find anything that fit the bill. As a volunteer board, it was hard to find the energy to take on the task, even though Dovercourt offered assistance.
“Think about all that work,” says Klein. “You’re starting with licensing again, taking care of all the renovations, who’s going to do all of those things? We’re a volunteer board, made up of working parents with kids at home. It’s really tough. Who’s going to do it, the teachers?”
WNS looked at alternate locations but came up short. According to Klein, only one possibility came up, but substantial renovations would have been required to make it “nursery ready,” including the addition of outdoor fencing, kitchen improvements, and the installation of washrooms inside the classroom space.
Susan Fletcher, President of the Dovercourt Recreation Association board of directors, says it all began 18 months ago when the Dovercourt board started discussions about a new strategic plan.
“One of the things that I wanted to do as president of the board was really start thinking about the next 25 years,” says Fletcher, whose grandsons attended WNS.
“We could still toddle along, doing what we do, but are we doing the right thing? Are we doing it for the right people?” she asks.
These initial questions led to demographic studies, studies about the clients, the programming space, and which programs were in high demand.
“One of the things the studies pointed out that we weren’t doing so well, was serving disabled people,” says Fletcher. “It’s not that we aren’t accessible, we are. We’ve been trying to expand our programs to meet needs of the community in some of the more underserved, more disadvantaged folks in our community.”
Early in the process Dovercourt realized a significant part of the population was being seriously underserved: seniors.
“One of the first things we did even before we had our strategic plan in place, was say to staff: ‘if this is a community centre, it should be for the community.’ Right now we’re pretty well known as a children’s centre with a little bit of fitness thrown in,” says Fletcher.
The number of seniors enrolling in Dovercourt’s programming since then has quadrupled, according to John Rapp, Dovercourt’s Executive Director, but he adds that the boom in senior participants is “a bit of a coincidence.”
“We stayed out of senior’s programming when there were others providing senior’s programming,” says Rapp. But over the past few years, the situation changed.
“The Alex Dayton Centre at Carlingwood closed, the west end Y closed – these were two major senior service providers. And the Churchill club was fading, in terms of the numbers of people who were participating,” says Rapp.
“There was a huge need in the community because there weren’t alternatives out there,” adds Fletcher.
Dovercourt started looking at the cost effectiveness of the programs they offered, where demands were high, and what rooms were being used effectively. And one of the areas that came under scrutiny was the space occupied by WNS.
“One of the things we started realizing is that because the WNS has been with us for so long, one of the things that we haven’t asked them to do is pay for the space they consume,” says Fletcher. “And a nursery school consumes a lot of space per child relative to what we do in our other programming.”
If there’s one thing both parties can agree upon, it’s the gradual decline of preschool enrollment in the area. Fletcher attributes it, in part, to the advent of all-day kindergarten.
“Over the last couple of years registration has been down,” says Klein, whose mother was the director of a daycare and later ran a daycare out of her home.
“Last year we took a big hit over the uncertainty of where we were going to be. I know that cost us.”
“Part of me hasn’t quite let go yet,” says Klein. “I believe there’s no other program like this one. For me, this place has been amazing.”
Klein credits an energetic, experienced, and caring teaching staff for the school’s success in the community.
Fletcher says the board did not come to this decision lightly.
“Part of the community that we’re most concerned about is the disadvantaged,” says Fletcher, citing Dovercourt’s new strategic plan. “And the parents who have kids in the nursery school, mostly relative to other families in this neighbourhood, you cannot call them disadvantaged. That’s not something I like to focus on, but it’s something that played heavily on us as a board. So we are subsidizing already relatively well-off folk at the expense of people who do not have those advantages.”
Fletcher says she has not had any feedback from the community about the nursery school closing; neither at their AGM, nor at the unveiling of Dovercourt’s expansion plans in July.
“I personally believe it’s the right decision for the organization and for the community.”
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