By Carol Tannenhauser
Sarah Najarian currently has two children at The Day School at Christ & St. Stephen’s Church, a private preschool on West 69th Street, between Columbus Avenue and Broadway. She calls it “a rare gem in early childhood education on the Upper West Side,” which has been “wonderful for both my kids.” It has also been wonderful for Sarah and her husband, Mark, who have “really valued the school’s close-knit parent community,” she says.
Now, the Najarians feel “devastated” and “blindsided” after learning in a letter from the church, dated April 27, that the 12-year-old Day School will be closing for good at the end of the 2022-23 school year, on June 9. Furthermore, the three-week summer camp that many of the 25-30 Day School families have enrolled their children in is cancelled.
“Now all the families are going in different directions,” Sarah said in a telephone interview with West Side Rag. “The little friends are going in different directions, and it’s sad….people have used words like ‘heartbreaking.'”
Rev. Canon K. Jeanne Person, interim rector of Christ & St. Stephen’s Church, which is the oldest church structure on the UWS, responded to WSR’s inquiry about the reason for the closure by forwarding the letter that the parents had received, noting, “Beyond this, I cannot comment further. If and as further news about the closing of the school is made public, we can be in touch.”
The letter cites three reasons for the church’s decision to close the school. The first is economic, “a recognition, early this year, that the parish needed to pursue… a mission-aligned financial restructuring that if not undertaken, purposefully and quickly, would soon threaten the parish’s viability.” The second was “an acknowledgement that enrollments in the Day School were not, post-pandemic, going to rise to needed levels.” This was attributed to the development of free Universal Pre-K, the opening of competing preschools in the neighborhood, and the general movement of families away from New York City. The third reason given was the condition of the church’s building and grounds, which “are in need of remediation. For safety reasons, the Vestry [the authoritative body that governs the church and school] deemed it best not to have children in the building as this work begins,” the letter read.
The Najarians responded with a letter of their own, calling the church’s decision to close the school “without any advance communication — when you have clearly been considering this for many months — both irresponsible and unreasonable. You have left families scrambling to find preschool options for the fall, with universal 3-K and 4-K placements full and many private preschools fully enrolled for 3’s and 4’s,” the Najarians wrote. “This is egregiously inconsiderate.” They also expressed hope that the church will “do right by” the seven administrators and teachers who will be unemployed.
Sarah’s son is headed for kindergarten in the fall and she has managed to find a preschool placement for her two-year-old daughter, but she remains “deeply disappointed and disheartened. It’s about our kids and our family at the start of their education,” she said. “We feel like we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us.”