Whitmore Early Childhood Center to Focus on ‘3-K’

Children in the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center's prekindergarten program enjoyed time on the playground Monday after the regular school day was over. Hilary Thayer Hamann

In response to the East Hampton School Board’s decision to discontinue outsourcing the district’s prekindergarten to the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, the center said this week that it will expand its research-based early education curriculum model to its younger “3-K” students in the fall.

“Whereas we regret that the partnership with the East Hampton School District is ending,” the childhood center’s board said in an official statement, “We are happy to have the opportunity to expand our 3-K programs, and are exploring partnerships with other area schools for both pre-K and 3-K programs.”

The center, formerly known as the East Hampton Day Care Center, has run a prekindergarten program for the district for 20 years. But in the face of declining elementary enrollment, the board opted last week to take the prekindergarten program into the John M. Marshall Elementary School building for the first time. Its contract with the center for a full-day pre-K program ends in June. 

Members of the school board praised the childhood center and its leadership for the excellence of its offerings and for its longstanding contributions to the community, but said that a decline in the student population allowed for a redistribution of teaching and classroom resources at John Marshall and for the projected incorporation of the approximately 80 East Hampton pre-K students currently at the childhood center.

“We wish everyone well,” said Maureen Wikane, administrative director of the center. Ms. Wikane is widely considered by parents, educators, and administrators to have been instrumental to the success of the joint venture between the school district and the childhood center over the course of the 20-year relationship.

“The school board decision is an opportunity to create positive change, to seek new opportunities to apply our methods, and to build new relationships. That’s what’s best for the community, for families, and for children,” Ms. Wikane said.

The Early Childhood Center has received grants from the Yale Child Study Center and the Devereux Center for Resilient Children to implement research. Arlene Pizzo-Notel, the program director, explained that “the curriculum is designed to help every child achieve developmental milestones in early literacy, problem solving, and other academic and life skills. Research indicates that well-implemented, high quality pre-kindergarten for at-risk kids can narrow the achievement gap, reduce grade repetition and special education placements, increase high school graduation rates, reduce crime and lead to greater employment and higher earnings as adults.”

In referring to applying the center’s social-emotional curriculum to 3-K learners, Ms. Wikane paraphrased Laura Anker-Grossman, one of the childhood center’s board members, in saying, “We were pioneers once. We will be pioneers again.”

The center will maintain a full-day pre-K program on a tuition basis and will continue to offer full-day toddler programs, and an optional extended day program allowing children to be at the center from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.