What happens when First Steps Day Care in Woodstock, is added to Discovery Pre-School in Boiceville? It becomes The Joy of Discovery At First Steps, a merge between two early education children’s centers and Universal Pre-Kindergarten. Linda Stoothoff, director at First Steps Day care, and Cathy Johnan the lead teacher and founder of Discovery Pre-School are thrilled about this major change that will happen for the new school year beginning in September, 2016.
“Cathy and I, we are in the Onteora school district and we’ve been working together for the past couple of years now for the school’s Pre-K program,” Stoothoff said,” so we are collaborators with the district on their full day program.” There are two problems to solve: declining enrollment and escalating paperwork from the State. “I’m really good at that administrative stuff, and she (Johnan) brings that passion to what she is doing, as far as her education piece, her experience, her knowledge,” Stoothoff said.
As a result, Discovery Pre-School, located off of Route 28 in Boiceville, will close and First Steps located at the Overlook Methodist Church on Route 212 in Woodstock will expand. First Steps will continue to offer Day Care outside of the Onteora catchment for children ages three-to-five, in addition to Onteora’s Universal Pre-K program for ages, four (by Dec. 1)-and-five. Although Discovery was full this year with 17 students, Johnan said only four families are staying, and the others are going onto Kindergarten level. First Steps was experiencing a low enrollment — 45 students this year out of 50 spaces available. Johnan will teach at the First Steps location and bring her assistant with her. The staff at First Steps will have one less teacher, however head teacher Ginny Workstus and assistants will remain. If enrollment grows, an additional teacher will be hired, a goal the two would like to reach. The teacher/student ratio is eight-to-one.
Besides the Woodstock location having a larger space, it also offers an additional opportunity that Johnan will be directing. “I’m an adjunct professor at (SUNY) New Paltz in Graduate level Special Education class, so one of the visions was, if we can get students from New Paltz to become part of a learning piece here, that’s something we can also bring to the docket because of my connections there.”
They hope their next level will be the creation of a lab school or as Johnan explained, “Where you bring teachers in and they get their training. It’s already docket and in the works, that they would come here and learn under me and because of the education piece that I hold and my connection with New Paltz, it’s a reality that it’s going to happen here.”
The merge frees up Johnan, due to Stoothoff expertise on a bureaucratic level. Johnan said, “The paperwork is so critical, because Onteora needs our stuff and State Ed needs our stuff and…” Stoothoff completed her sentence, “All the regulations!” Johnan added, “To have one person on that, and the other on curriculum.”
The two have been working on the merge since the New Year and both have a long work history with both sites. Stoothoff has been with First Steps for 13 years and Johnan with Discovery for 18 years. “We worked very hard for three months to try and figure out if this was the right match,” Stoothoff said. “This was a huge decision for Cathy…closing her business, but the more we worked together, the more we saw what our visions were and how our visions meshed and merged together. It just became so very apparent that this is what we need to do for the kids, for their families, for the staff and for each other.” Johnan agreed. “It was a big decision and declining enrollment was a piece of it, but mostly it stems from how we were collaborating and working together anyway, and what would best serve the future of the district, of us, of teachers moving forward, and…how to best serve the children in the future.”
There are two additional Onteora Universal Pre-K schools — Woodland Playhouse, located in Phoenicia; and Beginnings Pre-School located in Boiceville.
First Steps Early Childhood Education Center, has a new website at firststepsearlyeducationcenter.com