A 'TIGHT KNIT' 20 YEARS Parent-run school marks anniversary


Parents celebrated the 20th anniversary Saturday of a Columbia preschool they say is remarkable not only because it is run entirely by parents, but because it has endured that long in a transient area.

"The school is exceptional," said Janet Bradley, president of the Children's Time Preschool Inc.'s executive board. "In Columbia, things don't usually hang around 20 years. People usually are moving in and moving out. Ideas eventually fizzle. This is my fifth year with the school, and it's just as alive and vital as it was five years ago."

The celebration included a reunion in conjunction with the preschool's annual Fall Festival.

Catherine Goetz, the immediate past president, said the group of 40 to 50 sets of parents becomes "real tight knit, like a family" because everyone is expected to participate in running the cooperative preschool housed in a former neighborhood center on Shaker Drive in Kings Contrivance village.

"Everyone has to pull their weight," said Ms. Goetz, whose son, John, is in the 4-year-old class. "There is no administration. We are it. If they don't do the work, it doesn't get done."

The result has been a dedication -- especially among the mothers, with the fathers' support -- to ensuring that the children receive a good early start in their educations, Ms. Bradley said. It has helped the children and the mothers, she said.

"Sometimes, being at-home mothers, you feel like you're not dedicating yourself to something," said Ms. Bradley, whose son, Brenden, is in the 3-year-old class. "You need something there you can show for being home. The school gives not only the kids something, but gives the mothers a real sense of worth and of giving time to the kids. We feel like we're providing a good foundation for our kids."

Another former president, Kathy Van Echo, said she was impressed with the volunteer spirit at an "important time of life to devote" to children.

"What I found was that the effort was unending," Ms. Van Echo says. "Before I even asked parents to do something, they were right there volunteering for work."

The nonprofit preschool has survived three moves in which parents had to scramble to find space.

It started in 1973 as the Long Reach Nursery School in the Phelps Luck Neighborhood Center. It was forced to move out in 1980, and parents worked out a deal for space with the Epiphany Lutheran Church in the Columbia Hills neighborhood.

But the church setting was not ideal, and the preschool moved again to rented space in the former Waterloo Middle School around 1984. In 1988, parents rented space from the Columbia Association at the Meeting Room in Kings Contrivance.

Parents administer a $40,000 annual budget and run committees charged with raising money, developing a curriculum, maintaining a treasury and ordering supplies.

The preschool has two teachers and two aides, and a maximum of 48 children in two classes each for 3- and 4-year-olds. Tuition is $76 a month for 4-year-olds and $53 a month for 3-year-olds.

"I think it's incredible parents can run something with a $40,000 budget and keep it running in the black for 20 years," Ms. Goetz said.

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