When beloved “On School Road” director “Miss Sharon” Cowley found out that her school would not open as planned for the 2013-2014 school year, it was as if someone had pulled the circle-time rug out from under her.
“The thing that broke my heart was when they said I couldn’t contact the parents directly. Not that there was a whole lot of information. I think it was Friday the [decision was made] that we weren’t opening?”
Her voice breaks when she talks about the support she’s gotten from families.
“I have to say, I’m getting choked up. Everybody’s been amazing. I’ve had moms who’ve moved away call and email. People are incredible. That’s why I want to get something together for them. Whether it’s the girls who have been working with me forever, [our teaching] philosophy and a space, that is my only concern. I’m just trying to figure out possibilities, possibilities, possibilities.”
Even through the tears, Cowley has been working around the clock, working the phones and talking with Parks & Rec director Steve Pierce and town officials to find some kind of suitable—and fast—solution.
“I’ve literally been on the phone since we found this out until right now, I don’t get off the phone.”
Whether that means limited children’s programming or something similar to the kind of program Cowley used to run—substantial, creative curriculum and flexible, longer hours—remains to be seen. What Miss Sharon said she, Parks & Rec personnel and town officials are working on is trying to create some sort of programming that would be allowed without a daycare license.
“They’ve asked me to design programming that fits into that regulation, which Parks and Rec will run under their municipality license to run children’s programs. However, I know it does not meet the needs of the public. We’ve always met the needs of the public, and what the constituency has asked for. That’s why these programs have grown. I started as one art class, nine years ago. But it’s [grown to] too many hours so we also need a daycare license.”
The Town of Wilton’s director of human resources, labor relations and administrative services, Sarah Taffel, has indicated that the town has likely opted against completing the process to secure daycare licensing under Parks & Rec. “There is an application that is quite extensive, as you might expect for children of that age group. At this point, I don’t have information about whether the town is going to be proceeding with that application.”
But nothing is completely off the table of options, including Cowley trying to secure a license herself.
“The community is hoping that we get to offer what we offered before. I have been working with the state, [the Town] is talking to the same person that I’ve been talking to. We are working with the state to look at the licensing to run those types of programs. I know the town has said they’re not interested in going forward with [getting licensed for daycare]. I don’t know that’s in concrete—they’re still looking at whether to let me get the licensing and run a program out of their facility. I could be licensed—I have all the credentials for the licensing.”
One factor that has an effect is how quickly any renovations happening on Comstock’s roof can be completed, but Cowley said the state has been willing to work with the town to help ease that concern. “The State is willing to expedite that, is what they’re saying. But we’re still trying to see, that’s what all the phone calls are for.”
Cowley knows the need is high—there are very few remaining spots in other preschools for families who were left without a place for their children when the town suddenly announced the closure of “On School Road.”
“There’s not a lot of space out there this year. It’s great for other preschools, but not the families. The last few years demographics were very low for children, but now it’s changed. So hopefully we can meet that need.”
Scrambling for the kids and for her teachers
Sharon is working non-stop on trying to get the families—who she considers her families—taken care of. Hopefully that means someplace where she’s involved in the teaching, but even if she’s not in charge, or if it means trying to build a program outside of Wilton Parks and Rec, her primary concern is getting the families into some program.
“I am looking for other spaces, where I can pull some smaller program together for families, there are other organizations that have asked me to come in. I have a phone call in to one where I’m waiting to hear back and that could even be next week possibly. I also talked to the women at Ridgefield Kindergarten, it’s a lovely, lovely amazing space—they’ve got a very low enrollment right now, however they don’t do a twos program so I’m working with them to revamp what they can offer a lot of these families.”
She’s also trying to save the jobs of her teachers, seemingly scrambling in all directions to get something set up at Parks & Rec, even if it doesn’t completely match what had been offered before.
“Look, right now I don’t have a job. The teachers are town employees. The town has not made any determination or statement about them. Right now I’m just trying to put together anything they want to be put together.”
That’s not to say Cowley is promising anything—she’s encouraging people to find alternatives for their children. “It is difficult for me to find an answer right now. Please find another space. I want people to be taken care of. Hopefully if we can open there’s still a need.”
When she has information, Cowley will email families who had been registered in her program, and she will also let people know through GOOD Morning Wilton. Until then, she’s trying to work to get things situated, and saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” to all those concerned about her. And getting back on the phone to make calls.