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Preschools team up

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Charlotte collaborative aims to boost members’ programs, operations.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. [03.24.04] — Four inner-city preschools that involve and support parents have teamed up to strengthen their family-support programs and look for ways to share resources.

The preschools, created and supported by individuals, churches and nonprofits, already have built ties through board members, friends and groups that provide child-care resources.

And the directors of the preschools – Central Avenue Bilingual Preschool, Chapel of Christ the King Weekday School, Lakewood Preschool Cooperative and Seigle Avenue Preschool Cooperative — have met together periodically to share information and ideas.

Now, with a $640,000, three-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, the Charlotte Preschool Partnership plans by April 1 to hire a specialist to work with the four preschools over three years to strengthen their family-support programs.

It also plans to hire a consultant to help the preschools find ways to work together to strengthen their individual programs and operations.

“We’re looking to see if there’s a way of having a big tent that connects the four but does not merge them,” says Claire Tate, director of Partners for Out-of-School Time who, as a volunteer, helped spearhead formation of the partnership.

Tate, who helped start two of the preschools and served on the boards of the other two, says each has developed its own base of support.

“We don’t want to get rid of that support by merging the four programs,” she says.

The preschools aim to find ways to improve the services each delivers to youngsters and their families, and to cut costs and find more efficient ways of doing business, teaming up when needed.

Each preschool, for example, holds classes for parents on topics ranging from sharing books with their children, monitoring their health and planning nutritious meals.

While the groups may not hold classes together, Tate says, they may look for ways to bring their families together, and their family educators will meet with one another to share ideas.

“It will provide a sounding board for all of us who participate, working in our individual communities but also working together for change,” says Courtney Alexander, Lakewood’s executive director.

Lakewood, for example, serves mainly African American children and families but includes Hispanic families who do not speak English, Alexander says.

To improve communication, she says, she can ask the parent educator at Central Avenue Bilingual to help enroll Spanish-speaking parents in classes and present workshops to them in Spanish.

The partnership also will look for ways to do business more effectively and efficiently, she says.

The four schools might try to pool their purchasing or employee insurance, she says, or develop a model curriculum for parents.

“We will find a way to work together but yet still keep our own identities and affect change for families in the community we serve in a more efficient way,” she says.

“All of us share the mission of helping children and the whole family,” she says. “If we can change families, and families go out into the communities, the communities will begin to change.”

Don Jonas, senior vice president for community philanthropy at the Foundation for the Carolinas, which will administer the Knight grant, says the partnership offers “lessons for how a number of different groups serving a variety of populations can collaborate together to receive funding from foundations and to improve their operations.”

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