Mars-based preschool seeking new location
Eagle Staff Writer
Written by:
By Caleb Harshberger
January 13, 2018
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David Schaffner and other parents of students enrolled at My School Preschool shared their concerns at an informational meeting Tuesday. Dutilh United Methodist Church, which owns the school, announced last month that it will be replace the My School Preschool program with a new program that aligns academically with the Christian faith.

MARS — After nearly 30 years on Arch Street, My School Preschool is searching for a new home.

Officials at Dutilh United Methodist Church, which owns the school, announced they would be replacing the My School Preschool program with a new program that aligns academically with the Christian faith.

“We’re not closing the preschool,” said the Rev. Jim Gascoine, assistant pastor at Dutilh. “We’re starting a changed program with a faith component.”

The church announced the moves in a December letter to parents and held an informational meeting Tuesday to hear questions and concerns.

Hundreds of parents and former faculty and staff of My School Preschool packed the church building for the meeting.

Gascoine told those gathered that the church began talks with their two preschools — Dutilh Preschool-Cranberry and My School Preschool — in August, to begin adding an emphasis on Christian spiritual development to the academic curriculum.

The church originally acquired My School when it merged with Mars United Methodist Church in 2010.

“The preschools were given a directive. Our vision was to integrate faith and academics. In essence, have the preschools aligned with the church’s mission,” Gascoine said. “The leadership of the (Mars) preschool was opposed to that.”

Talks continued for months as church leadership and the school board struggled to reach an agreement.

“It became clear there were two incompatible visions for My School Preschool,” said Larry Heckathorn, a member of the church’s leadership board.

By December, the church had voted to dissolve the school board and close My School Preschool at the end of the school year.

During Tuesday’s meeting, numerous parents spoke out against the decision.

“My daughter is in this program in part because of the Christian lessons she learned here,” said David Schaffner, a parent at the school. “It concerns me that you’re scrapping the program (and) closing the school. You have a plan for information, but you don’t have a curriculum ready.”

Other parents expressed frustration that the church did not consult them on the decisions that were being made.

“As a lifelong Methodist, this is not how we treat each other,” said parent Melody Apthorpe. “These teachers have put in wonderful service for decades and to be told they’re done because they’re not Christian enough is pretty outrageous from a Methodist. We’re a pretty laid back religion, really.”

Meanwhile, many of the preschool’s former staffers and faculty are hoping to continue My School with a new building and new affiliated church. They are looking at locations and churches that may affiliate with them, as well as fundraising opportunities, said Jamie McMurtrie, parent and preschool board member.

“We’re hoping to find a building that fits our financial situation,” said Denise Waslo, a My School teacher. “We have no money. ... We can use any help we can get.”

As the owners of My School Preschool, Dutilh will keep the remaining funds when the school ceases operations in May.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Cynthia Hohman, also a My School teacher. “Dutilh has all our funds and it’s theirs.”

The My School staff is hoping to raise the funds quickly to avoid a gap year.

Dutilh’s new preschool will open this fall for the 2018-19 school year. The church is looking to hire staff and form a curriculum that fits its needs. Registration will open in mid to late January, with current students given preferential admittance. The church also invited My School staff to apply for positions at the new school.