The Beginning: 1970–1974
In 1970, a small group of parents came together to explore the possibility of creating a preschool. They wanted to provide group and individual experiences, in a safe, accepting environment. They felt it was important for there to be enough adults in the classroom to meet each child’s individual needs. And they wanted it to be affordable.
Since a few members of the group had experience with family cooperatives, they began exploring this possibility. They contacted groups and individuals around the nation. Weeks were spent in the basics of clarifying what the group wanted and how it could be achieved.
The group incorporated under the name of Anchorage Co-operative Nursery School, with Sandra Queer as the president. A handbook was written which included philosophy, by-laws, and procedures. Then this small but determined group began the monumental task of turning this framework into a reality.
A building was found. Families began making equipment and started fund-raising. Donna Mallonee was elected Board President. Paula Terrel was hired to be the Teacher. Just days before school started, Paula accepted another teaching position. Another teacher was employed, and the Preschool was underway.
Preschool met five days a week. Children ranged from 1½ to 5. Tuition was $15 per month. The tuition income did not cover costs. Fund raising projects were held each month. Loss of membership caused the Preschool to cut back to three days a week.
Families did all the setting up, taking down, cleaning and maintenance, as well as the making improvements to the building. They continued to make materials and equipment. The classroom was dry-walled, taped, spackled and painted by members. Hours were spent at school and the twice-monthly parent education meetings. The school embodied the true spirit of the family cooperative. The membership was a small, hardworking and cohesive group. Many members worked on the Preschool almost to the exclusion of all else.
Susan Guinn became Board President. There was enough interest to return to a five-day program. The children were divided into two age groups: 2 1/2 to 3 and 4-5. Thus the 2-day class and 3-day class were born.
By the end of the year, dissatisfaction had developed within the membership. An evaluation was conducted by an early childhood professional. The findings of this evaluation led to improvements; but the earlier problems meant that fewer than ten families planned to return the following year. Donna Mallonee again became Board President. She and the few remaining members worked through the summer to increase membership. By late August, both classes were full and waiting lists had started. Then the Co-op lost its teacher again. School started with Donna Mallonee as temporary teacher. The search for a permanent teacher began. Donna was one of 30 applicants; she was hired.
In October 1971, a new board of officers under the leadership of Marge Carter was elected. The Preschool had a teacher and full membership. It became obvious that a new place to meet was needed. Families began looking at every building in town as a possible location. The First Christian Church, which originally had been considered, but rejected because of an unsuitable structural feature, was moving to a new location.
Before the new foundation was begun, an agreement was reached between the Preschool and First Christian Church. Members of the Co-op were actively involved in the planning of the new schoolrooms. Tables and chairs were purchased and the play yard fenced. A 3-day afternoon class was added and a new teacher hired.
The fall of 1972 started optimistically, with Sue Baxter as Board President, Donna Mallonee and Kay Wood as teachers, new premises and full membership. The school year started late because of construction work which continued for several weeks. Despite these problems and a tight budget, members were enthusiastic. For the first time, the Preschool was stable, with full membership and board, excellent teachers, and a beautiful new permanent home.
During 1973-74, Beth Horton was Board President. Three teachers were hired that year: Jo Aase and Sally Bruce, teaching the 3-day morning class; and Carolyn Rooker, teaching the 2-day morning and 3-day afternoon classes. The school was more financially stable. While the Preschool benefited from having three talented and enthusiastic teachers, nevertheless, there was a lack of closeness and a loss of communication. To remedy this, it was decided to employ only one teacher and have just two morning classes the following year. Changes were made in the administrative system. Business affairs were organized so that the treasurer, bookkeeper, and business secretary had specific duties. Communication was improved with the addition of class representatives on the Board.
In 1974-75, Una Tuck was President of the Board and Sally Bruce became teacher for both classes. Sally had taught at the Preschool the previous year and was familiar with the philosophy, routines, and many of the parents and children. It was immediately apparent that having one teacher was good for the Preschool. Indoor climbing equipment was purchased and an outdoor swing set was built. The furniture was painted.
In December 1974, an auction raised $500. A mimeograph machine, additional equipment and books were purchased. The Board voted to give Sally Bruce a well-earned bonus. At the end of the year, the handbook was revised and the committee system reorganized
In 1975-76, Marcia Simmons was Board President and Sally Bruce was teacher. The school had a professional evaluation including family questionnaires. Inflation forced a tuition increase. Recommendations for the next year included the construction of an outdoor play/climbing structure and the addition of committees for equipment and special events.
Sally Bruce returned as teacher for 1976-77 year; and Katie Gilmore was Board President. The Board voted to have a money-raising event to pay for increased expenses. A successful and fun auction was held in December. Part of the proceeds was used to build an outdoor climbing structure. The remainder was used for operating expenses.
For the 1977-78 year, Sally Bruce remained as teacher and Jane Meacham President of the Board. Tuition was increased ($22.50 for the 2-day class and $27.50 for the 3-day class) in order to give Teacher Sally a raise and create a buffer for operating costs. Enrollment was not full. There were more family education programs at monthly meetings. Another successful auction was held in December. After the first of the year, new members joined and for the first time in quite awhile, both classes were full and remained so until the end of the year.
Sally Bruce continued as “Teacher Sally” at the Anchorage Cooperative Preschool until her retirement in 1999. Sally taught children and families at the Co-op for 26 years. She gave something priceless to every child and family – herself. Sally was tremendously appreciated and was sorely missed in her retirement.
1999: Jan Porterfield became the teacher in the fall of 1999. Jan had taught Early Childhood Development at UAA and became acquainted with the Preschool when one of her students did a placement there. She as so impressed with the school that the following year she enrolled her son in the program. He attended the Preschool from 1994-96.
In 1999-2000, Susan Crowley was Board President. During the summer of 1999, Susan, Jan and many members took on the huge task of re-painting the walls of the Preschool, and sorting through and re-organizing the school’s equipment and supplies. The result was well worth the effort and the new year began with the Preschool looking fresh and clean. Toward the end of the year after months of effort, Eva Vischer succeeded in getting new carpet and installation donated by Interior Surfaces.
For the 2000-2001 year, Chanie Burnham was Board President and Jan returned as teacher. This was a challenging year for the Preschool because Jan was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2000 and was out recovering from surgery until after the Winter Break. During that time the very talented adults in the school took on the teaching duties. Chanie Burnham taught the 2-day class and several adults taught the 3-day class until Kimmer Ball became the permanent substitute for that class. Jan returned in January working a four-day week with Kimmer teaching on Wednesdays while Jan received chemotherapy. This schedule continued until the end of the school year. Despite, or maybe because of this, the Preschool continued to be a good place for children and a great caring community. Adults rallied to become Teacher Jan’s “person of the day” during November and December. This person was available to help her with transportation and errands. Children benefited from having different adults act as teacher and different teaching styles.
During the summer of 2001, many improvements were made to the Preschool play yard: bark chips were placed under the swings and climber to provide a safer play space, the sand box was enlarged, and the space between the swings was increased by removing the middle of three swings. Inside, many of the storage cabinets were re-painted. Eva Vischer and her daughters, Kirsten and Astrid, who were recent Preschool alumni created the Welcome sign that hangs above the stairs. At the start of the year 2001-02 our school looked great thanks to the effort of Preschool members.
For the 2001-02 school year Patty Thompson was the Board President and Jan returned as teacher. This was a good year for the Preschool. All members did their jobs, tuitions were paid on time and everyone participated in monthly cleaning. Only one family left the Preschool to move out of state. A family from the waiting list joined immediately.
Michelle Dunn became President for the 2002-03 school year. In July 2002, Jan learned that her cancer had returned and she resigned to focus on regaining her health. Stacy Ulrich was selected as the new teacher after a long search process, bringing years of environmental education and early childhood experience and training to the job.
DeeAnn Apgar was elected President in May 2003. Although there was a waiting list at the beginning of the year, 2003-2004 was plagued with low enrollment for a variety of reasons. The year went well in all aspects. Stacy decided to make this year her last and move out of state to continue her education. Kimmer Ball, a past ACP parent and substitute was hired as teacher for the coming years.
2004-2005 was the first year for Teacher Kimmer and a transition year for the preschool. Low enrollment and some turnover in membership was challenging for the board and school administratively and financially. Many members and Kimmer went out of their way to pull it all together and membership became more cohesive and focused in many ways. Our students thrived under Teacher Kimmer’s enthusiasm and love. Tommy, the preschool tortoise became ill during the school year and was cared for and eventually adopted by a preschool family. Mike Connors was President. The board voted to raise tuition to $95 (2 day) and $100 (3 day) for the 2005-2006 school year.
2005-2006: Our membership really stepped up this year. Mike Connors was our president until his family moved to Africa in the middle of the school year. Jen Gordon then continued as both president and VP of Parent Ed. At the end of the school year, a very productive weekend retreat was held that will hopefully become an annual event. From the retreat new ideas were implemented that will strengthen our organization, including a new “buy-out” or “opt-out” option for families, jobs being revised to include checklists of monthly tasks, and our whole organization being clarified and more cohesive. We now have alumni board members and our website is becoming more dynamic as well as a tool for communicating to our membership. Kimmer Ball, our amazing teacher and former preschool parent, once again graced the classroom with her engaging style and abounding energy that our children and families all love and appreciate. She found her classrooms full during the 2-day class and about ¾ full in the 3-day class.
2006-2007 was another exciting year of change for ACP, with the addition of a Pre-Kindergarten Enrichment program and also an Assistant Teacher hired to our staff. Membership agreed that paying a higher tuition rate in order to have another paid staff member and thus added stability for our children was a worthwhile change. The retreat brought about an expansion on our ideas from last year about providing more flexibility, and we came up with a dynamic tuition structure that allows for different levels of work and tuition rates for the 2007-2008 school year. Kimmer’s addition of a weekly Teacher’s News email including themes, learning outcomes and family participation ideas was a huge hit with members. Kimmer also spent a lot of time simplifying daily and weekly lesson plans and getting them all into an electronic format.
2007-2008 was a year where it all came together – we had full enrollment with a wait list for the first time in years; the Pre-K Enrichment Program was off and running; we had Mimi, an excellent Assistant Teacher at the beginning of the year, until she took a job elsewhere; and then we hired Tom to replace her – and what an amazing find he was! He worked tirelessly from January until the end of the year and brought a wonderful world of fun and adventure. He will continue on with us in 2008-2009. We also implemented our Flexible Participation/ Tuition structure. Finally, at the end of the year, we decided to implement a new Team structure that will encourage more community/team building amongst our membership.
In 2008-2009, the preschool experimented with a new team structure, and although we reverted to our more traditional organizational structure mid-year, we learned and gained much from a focus on team jobs. We continued with strong enrollment in all of our programs. Patrick Solana-Walkinshaw was president.
The 2009-2010 school year was challenging, especially in our 2-day class, where families came and went for many reasons and the year ended with low numbers. Fortunately, the 3-day class and Pre-K thrived and were full all year. The auction held in April brought in more than $7000, which was a welcome surprise.
This year was Teacher Kimmer’s last year teaching at ACP. Her love for the kids, for teaching, and for our cooperative program was so clear in her work and was the reason for many returning families. Teacher Kimmer was the heart of ACP for many years, and as teacher, was a big influence on raising our children. Kimmer studied and took classes throughout the school year to earn her Certificate in Early Childhood from UAA. Next year she will begin her internship in the Anchorage School District.
Assistant Teacher (and yogini) Dana Witucki was hired just before school began, when we learned Teacher Tom would not be able to return to ACP. Just as Teacher Tom had done, Dana left her own imprint on the school … one of peace, playfulness, and joy.
Janelle Williams began the year as board President, with Sara Thomas grabbing the torch in January, taking us successfully through the rest of the school year. Sara spent countless hours on all things involving the preschool. She led a holiday gift-giving effort which resulted in six carloads of presents for a large relocated refugee family. This was just one example out of many that showed the generosity and strength of our membership this year. A handful of members continued to work through the summer, re-painting the classroom, refinishing the floors, and installing new carpet, providing a fresh classroom for next year’s students, teachers, and families.
The 2010-2011 school year began with a new teacher/director Eva Hansmeyer, new assistant teacher Kathryn Daum, and new president Jessica Carr. Throughout the year the 3-Day enrollment remained stable but there was quite a bit of turnover in the 2-Day class. In January, Anika, a new assistant teacher came on board bringing with her a never ending enthusiasm and positive energy to the classroom. Jessica resigned as president and Heather Probasco stepped in to fill the position after only a short time with ACP. With her leadership and the hard work of the auction committee and membership, the school hosted its most successful auction to date earning more than $9000 to round out the school year. Lead teacher Eva Hansmeyer left ACP in April of 2011.
Despite lacking a lead teacher throughout the summer months ACP opened its doors for the 2011-2012 with strong parental involvement. Lead teacher Lisa Steele was hired in early August. This was a transitional year for ACP as we solidified our staff team and Lisa shifted into a cooperative teaching style. Assistant teacher Nikole Smith was hired in September. This was the first year that the board of directors opted to separate the head teacher and director positions. A new Director was hired in September, but parted ways with the school in October. After a long search, Sara Dale was hired in January. After initially struggling with low enrollment, all three classes were full or nearly full after the Christmas holiday. Heather Probasco stayed on as board president. Tier one tuition for two day class was $140 and $170 for three day class. Pre-K program tuition was $175. Due to changing standards, ACP lost our National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation at the beginning of the school year.
The 2012-2013 school year got off to a great start. Both 2-day and 3-day classes had high enrollment throughout the year, with pre-K enrollment picking up after Christmas. Lisa Steele remained on as Lead Teacher, with LizMery Diershaw joining ACP in August as Assistant Teacher. Lindsey Adam was hired as Director in September but left in February when her husband was transferred out of state. Sara Dale returned as Interim Director until the end of the year. Daniel Alsdorf served as President.
The 2013-2014 school year began with high enrollment in all classes which continued throughout the year. The Pre-K class grew steadily throughout the year with a very active group. Lead Teacher Lisa Steele and Assistant Teacher LizMery Diershaw continued on as classroom staff. Preschool Coordinator Aimee Palmer was hired in August. Daniel Alsdorf continued in his role as President. Many Board members who had served the previous year returned for a second year of service. The school again hosted the Fall Festival in October in conjunction with the First Christian Church. A Solstice Festival was also a well-attended event in December. The preschool jobs were revised and streamlined in an effort to improve involvement and efficiency. The school’s license with the State of Alaska was completed in the spring and renewed in June of 2014.