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Searching for a new home

Community Preschool must relocate by next fall after losing spot at Bolton Primary

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Back row, from left to right: Inga McDevitt, Yarrow Currie, Jaime McGraw and Kathy Rozes. Front row, from left to right: Cathy Vause, Kate Fassett and Clara Fassett. Together, the group hopes to find a new home for the West Linn Community Preschool.There are times when Inga McDevitt still calls Cathy Vause for advice.

McDevitt’s child is 12-years old now, well removed from Vause’s West Linn Community Preschool classroom. But McDevitt and Vause — who is perhaps better known as “Teacher Cathy” — have remained close, as have many parents and students who have passed through Vause’s famed preschool program.

“I moved here and didn’t know anybody,” McDevitt said. “I started at that preschool, and 80 percent of those women I still talk to. I still call Teacher Cathy, and my kid’s 12.”

Heads nodded around a table at Willamette Primary as McDevitt spoke, surrounded by other parents dedicated to the school and its teachers.

Her feelings are common in many families who have passed through the preschool during Vause’s 35-year tenure, but now the school’s future is at stake as it is forced to move out of its longtime home at Bolton Primary School.

In April, Vause was informed by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District that Bolton Primary could no longer host the preschool due to increased enrollment. The preschool, which operates as a cooperative affiliated with the Parent Child Preschools Organization, has rented the classroom at Bolton since 2001.

“They’ve let us stay at Bolton for a long time,” said McDevitt, who herself is a school district employee at Willamette Primary. “When I was president (of the preschool board), they were talking about, ‘Hey, this could happen.’ Well, now Bolton’s population has exploded.”

“They increased by three classrooms this year,” Vause added. “(Former Deputy Superintendent) Jane Stickney actually advocated for us to have our current space in the beginning. She worked with us in the spring of 2011 and really advocated for us being there and staying all this time.

“I think I can speak for the school when I say we’re really grateful for that.”

But the preschool nonetheless finds itself in a precarious position as its rental agreement expires at the end of the school year and a new space must be found by next fall. The preschool board has identified one potential relocation option at the old Bolton Fire Station, but renovations at the city-owned property may not be done in time for the fall 2016 deadline.

TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Three generations of preschool parents and students - Mike Delano, Kate Fassett and Clara Fassett - pose with Teacher Cathy.

Thus, the board is asking the public for any and all suggestions.

“At Bolton, the classroom space is about 1,100 square feet, but then we have storage needs as well,” Vause said. “We have our own private kitchen, and an outdoor play area is really important. It doesn’t have to have a playground on it, just a place where children could be outside and play.”

The preschool began in a West Linn church back in 1977, and has since relocated several times. Vause, for her part, signed on as a teacher in 1980 and has watched several generations of families pass through the preschool in the 35 years since.

As a “parent cooperative” school — the only one in West Linn — the preschool is operated by parents and teachers alike, thus fostering a particularly close-knit environment.

“Parents play an integral role in running the school,” Vause said. “They serve on the board, and I have three parents that help me in the classroom every day. ... Essentially parents serve as aides to the teachers, so in doing, by using that model, we’re able to keep tuition affordable, and we want to be affordable to all in the community.”

The collaborative relationship between parent and teacher closely mirrors Vause’s overarching philosophy about preschool: that it is primarily a time for social development.

“Our program really focuses on social development,” Vause said. “So the thought being that, children really need to be able to know how to function in a group situation. They need to be able to follow direction and take turns and problem solve and listen, all those kinds of social skills.

“Those skills then pave the way for academic learning to take place.”

That development is fostered not only by Vause’s teaching and example, but also the parents who work as part of the cooperative.

“What’s significant and unique about the preschool that the kid is right at a developmental age of social development, and they’re seeing parents meet new people and interact and work together,” said Kathy Rozes, an alumni parent who is helping with the school’s relocation effort. “And so we end up modeling that social development for them. And you don’t get that at other preschools. Nothing really binds you together and connects you as much as working to a common goal, and kids really get a good sense of charitable work and working (together).”

Vause has seen it happen again and again over the course of more than three decades. In many cases, those she taught in the preschool have returned as adults with children of her own. The board’s current president, Kate Fassett, was part of Vause’s very first class in 1980, and now her four-year old daughter Clara is a student at the preschool.

“Just to see those families grow as parents, to see their children thrive, to see friendships form amongst the families ... they become lifelong friends and are a wonderful support to each other,” Vause said.

It’s this unique experience, perhaps more than anything else, which the board is working so hard to preserve. If the potential Bolton Fire Station siting doesn’t work, the hope is that the West Linn community might bind together to find a new home for the preschool.

“So many families in West Linn have had their children taught by Teacher Cathy,” McDevitt said. “They really need to find a home by next fall.”

Residents who wish to get involved should contact the West Linn Community Preschool at 503-657-5050 or info@wlcp.org.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.


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