Northshire Day School

Northshire Day School recently received a $50,000 grant from the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation. 

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MANCHESTER CENTER — Northshire Day School recently received a sizable windfall, securing a grant of $50,000 for the child care and education center’s general needs.

The William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation backed the school’s community-minded mission.

“Our community response grantmaking program focuses on strengthening families. We see this grant as very aligned with that focus,” said Marci Lu, senior program officer at the foundation.

She said the early childhood education center was a great fit for their outreach program.

“Northshire Day School is Manchester’s largest, high quality licensed early care and education provider, and it uses a family strengthening model. And their staff has been working tirelessly to keep their doors open during the pandemic, to provide and continue to provide quality, affordable and accessible child care to work.”

It’s about ‘family partnerships’

Leaders at the Northshire Day School echoed that view.

“Family partnerships, building community and nurturing the whole child in a healthy, safe and loving environment is at the core of who we are,” said Executive Director Laurie Metcalfe in a statement the school released about the gift. “This grant supports the critical role early childhood education has in the daily lives of children and families.”

The school is the home-away-from-home of 85 community children, from age 6 weeks to 5. And the school’s services extend beyond just education, providing two meals and a snack made from scratch daily, and connecting families to events appropriate for kiddos and important family resources.

“Really our primary focus is on supporting children and families in the Shire community,” said Jennifer Luty, development director. “We feel like there is not a major social service in the Manchester area. You either have to go to Bennington or to Rutland. So for us it’s more than just child care: It’s connecting families with young children with the resources they really need, whatever that looks like for them.”

Social services needed

It’s known that schools and child care centers often wind up as de facto providers of social services, especially in rural communities. But given their druthers, officials at the school would like to hire a professional to help with those services.

“Actually, one of our goals is to hire a social worker at some point, not only to relieve that burden, but get someone whose true goal is to do what’s right for families. We have seen the benefit of some of the services that our children receive here, and we’re not able to extend that to every single family. Not everyone qualifies, and we see where families would benefit from more support.”

It’s awkward, too, for teachers to broach some topics in ways that a social worker might.

“It’s not always appropriate for me to go up to someone and say, ‘Hey are you struggling? What can I do to help you?’ even though I do often have connections to really great resources,” explained Luty. A social worker would step into that gap.

Long waiting list

The need is huge. The school’s waiting list is over 100 names long.

“It comes down to staffing. We would love to be able to expand and offer more to this community, but we want to make sure that we maintain the quality of our program, and that really begins with the people in the room,” Luty said.

She said the people in the room care — deeply. Established in 1968, the school is the area’s longest-operating child care provider, mostly likely because of the caliber of its staff; several employees have their master’s degrees, and some staff have been with the school for over 30 years.

“They’re not just dedicated to children — they’re dedicated to the children of this community,” said Luty.

Some educators have turned down opportunities to teach preschool at public schools, where they’d likely earn more and get summers off, benefits Northshire Day School isn’t able to offer.

Money will aid school with general ops

But with grants like the O’Neill Foundation’s, the center might be able to change that, at least in part. The grant is for general operations, something that gives the school more flexibility in how to spend the money.

Luty said they plan to use the money to offset a huge part of the school’s yearly deficit — the school operates on a nearly quarter million dollar shortfall each year.

“That’s the price we pay as an organization for keeping child care accessible and affordable for everyone, and we have been very lucky to have the support of generous individuals and foundations who really make it possible for us to keep tuition as low as it is,” said Luty.

Low cost to whom?

But she gets, too, that “low” is relative term.

“I’m sure if you spoke to one of our families, they might say, ‘Actually, tuition is really high.’ Because it is a lot of money — it’s a lot of money when you have more than one child. It’s a lot of money when you work a seasonal job and you don’t know what your whole year is going to look like. We really do everything in our power to walk that fine line between giving a top-quality program and being able to offer it to anybody who’s interested,” she said.

She’s not wrong that the price can seem steep. For instance, tuition clocks in at a cool $15,340 for a toddler on a five-day-a-week schedule for the 2021-22 school year.

But again, the school runs on a shortfall — mostly to pay staff enough, or even at all.

“We need to pay people what they’re worth,” said Luty. “Truly, more than 80 percent of our budget goes to paying our staff. So many people don’t realize that early childhood education majors are the lowest-paid college graduates. And it’s because we’re trying to keep tuition low for families.”

Foundation stepped in

For many care centers, there is a tension between paying folk what they’re worth, and offering communities care they can actually afford. The William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation stepped into that tension and eased it.

“Certainly parents need access to affordable, high quality early care and education that nurtures child development — and allows them to get back to work,” said Lu.

The $50,000 — distributed over the course of two years — will offset a tenth of the $250,000 deficit for two years, alleviating some financial burden for the center.

Still, the school doesn’t rely on one source of money to stay afloat. It seeks funding from several sources, ranging from individuals, to foundations and — upcoming — municipal funding from the hometowns of its children.

‘Better safety net’

“All of those things together create a better safety net, better sustainability for us as an organization, because you just don’t know if the same group of people are going to be able to give each year. The wider we cast our net, the more secure we are,” said Luty.

The $50,000 grant is double the foundation’s prior funding to the school. The foundation has given grants to other nonprofit programs in Rutland and Bennington County, too.

While the O’Neill foundation has no formal application process for two-year funding, it awarded the multiyear grant on a discretionary basis, reflecting its recognition of the center’s effect in the area.

“We do the best we can to make a big impact in this community,” said Luty.


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