The recent announcement of the closure of Notre Dame de Namur University’s Early Learning Center this June has some parents upset with the timing and reasoning for the program’s termination, while others wonder what will happen to the space and its resources.
In the letter to parents and teachers, President Judith Greig said Notre Dame has been considering the future of the center for some time because the Montessori school, which serves preschool and kindergarten children, is not part of the core university mission. She noted the preschool also places a significant burden on Notre Dame management and resources that is “becoming increasingly difficult to justify.” The future of the space is still up in the air, said Richard Rossi, Notre Dame director of communications.
Parent Amanda Greco has one daughter at the preschool and said she was fortunate she is eligible for transitional kindergarten at public schools next year otherwise she would have been left without a place for her to attend school. She was surprised to hear about the closure and is worried for those who haven’t registered for other preschools since most enrollment deadlines have passed.
“The teachers are wonderful and the facility is one of the most beautiful, magical spaces we saw on whole Peninsula when we were looking at preschools,” she said. “It’s especially sad for families that just joined the school and don’t have the option of transitional kindergarten next year. It seems like NDNU wasn’t invested in making the school successful. I’d like to think there’s a future for this special place, even it has to morph into a different organization or leadership structure.”
Greco suggested Notre Dame Elementary School consider observing the preschool or spinning it off into a parent owned co-op. She also would like to see the materials and equipment from the playground donated to local family shelters or co-op preschools.
“One of the fathers at the school went there 30 years ago,” she said. “This place that has a lot of history and means a lot to a lot of families. … There’s a lot of heart that’s gone into that place.”
The ELC was founded in 1964 by Sister Christina Trudeau, a sister of Notre Dame de Namur and pioneer in early childhood and Montessori education. It was intended to provide training for early childhood educators. However, the university no longer has an early childhood education program as part of its School of Education and Leadership. It currently has a three-year curriculum, with art, music, gardening and Spanish programs.
The university is considering a range of options for what to do with the site including internal use, said Rossi. Notre Dame has also received inquiries from other preschools about the space. He noted the closure was timed with the school’s Board of Trustees meeting.
“It required a vote of the Board of Trustees and the meeting was scheduled for February,” he said. “It would have been ideal to announce it sooner, but that’s just the way it worked out.”
Meanwhile, parent Velvet Snow said she wasn’t surprised about the announcement since she has heard rumors about it closing for the past four years. She said there were a lot of issues that involved the center and administration. There was miscommunication across the board, she said.
“I was sad because it’s a wonderful place and it’s hard to find a facility/playground like this in the area,” she said. “Because the facility is perfect for preschool-aged children, I hope they lease it to someone to become a preschool. To see it torn down and become something else would be sad. … Every parent has their own special things they’re looking for [in a preschool] and we’re lucky to have choices, but there aren’t choices that have the space the ELC has and there aren’t choices for transitional kindergarten age kids.”
Snow said she is glad the school didn’t take any longer to make the decision since parents needed time to look for other preschool options. She had already been looking for a new preschool and met deadlines, noting this has been a chaotic year.
Others had a sense of the closure as well. Parent Eloiza Meier has been at the school for four years and is on the social committee of the parent board. She said there was always a lingering threat the school would be closed since she felt Notre Dame saw the preschool as a financial burden. The school especially seemed to be hobbling after its director Jan Lawrence left, with personality conflicts and internal problems, Meier said. It was a shock that many teachers left right before the school year started.
“I feel like they rushed to get a director,” she said. “On the surface, everything was fine. … It is still a functioning school. … Ultimately I think it was the leadership of the university that could have done more with getting a director with more experience and having more proactive mediation or team building. It’s very unfortunate they can just close it and say that they’re not going to deal with it.”
Rossi previously said not there’s plenty of other places in San Mateo that offer preschool service.
“There are a lot of options, just not many Montessori options,” Meier said. “It’s very rich in terms of curriculum, geography, science, art and music. They’re not playing all day long; they were really, really learning. It’s mixed aged. … There’s not really comparable options in Belmont. … It’s not a dilapidated building.”
For the 2012-13 school year, the cost of tuition for the preschool was $7,690. Kindergarten was $9,145 for half day, $10,000 for a full day and $12,600 for an extended day, which included after-school Spanish lessons. The school ran from September through May and also held a summer Spanish program for four weeks — with two two-week sessions — in June and July, according to the program’s website.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105