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Toledo Zoo's decision to drop preschool program irks parents

  • CTY-ZOO-SIGN-2-OCT-13-1997

    The Toledo Zoo's preschool program, which went on a 1-year hiatus in December of 2016, will not reopen.

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    Sailer

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The Toledo Zoo’s decision not to reopen its preschool and instead offer “mission driven” programming to existing area preschools has some parents feeling misled.

The zoo announced in December, 2016, that its preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds in the Museum of Sciences would go on a one-year hiatus during building renovations. Jeff Sailer, the zoo’s executive director, said at the time the preschool would reopen in September, 2018 in a new building on the zoo’s north side.

CTY-ZOO-SIGN-2-OCT-13-1997

The Toledo Zoo's preschool program, which went on a 1-year hiatus in December of 2016, will not reopen.

THE BLADE
Enlarge | Buy This Image

But on Nov. 10, zoo Curator of Education Mitchell Magdich informed parents the program was changing when it reopens next year. Instead of a kindergarten readiness program, the zoo would provide “free, animal and nature-based programming” for existing preschool programs.

Beth Nieckarz, who was among a group of parents who pushed in 2016 for the zoo not to temporarily close the preschool, said she and other parents feel betrayed by the zoo’s decision. She had four children go through the preschool program, and acquaintances signed up for an informational list at her recommendation.

They signed up “because I raved about what an amazing program it was,” she said.

Ms. Nieckarz expressed frustration at Mr. Sailer’s previous indication that the preschool would come back.

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Sailer

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“He is able to get away with telling the community one thing and walking away without accountability for deceiving a group [small or not] of people that were depending and anticipating on their jobs and an amazing preschool opportunity for their kids,” she wrote to The Blade.

Mr. Sailer explained the decision.

“In evaluating our programs, we saw the opportunity to reach hundreds or thousands of preschool-aged children, including the disadvantaged, instead of just dozens. Regardless of the program change, we can keep our educators employed and engaged, which in the end allows us to deliver upon our mission of inspiring others to join us in caring for animals and the natural world,” he said.

Started in 2004, the zoo’s preschool program averaged about a dozen children, and the half-day program was developed to better utilize vacant classroom space, Mr. Magdich said.

Zoo officials said they reevaluated the preschool during the hiatus and determined they wanted to offer a more “mission-based program” by tailoring its educational offering toward environmental and zoological lessons. Its new free program would be available for any preschool program in the area, meaning more students could take advantage of the zoo’s educational spaces.

“It’s not that they are just coming here on a field trip,” Mr. Magdich said. “They are going to be coming here for classes.”

Bob Vasquez, a Toledo Board of Education member and director of external affairs for the Toledo Zoo, said leadership used the hiatus for a deeper review of its educational programs.

“We reevaluated [the program] over that time that it was suspended, and this is what we thought would better serve our mission and the community,” he said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at nrosenkrans@theblade.com419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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