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The red door at 1835 Grant St. is closed.

After a century of providing early childhood education, the board of directors of Evanston Day Nursery (EDN) closed its childcare center and nursery school on Aug. 8.

The organization was begun as a resource to support the working families of Evanston. Over the years EDN’s commitment to these working families grew, as did the support of the community and local organizations. EDN and this community network made it possible for many working families, including those needing financial support, to find quality early childhood education and daycare for their children.  

In the recent past, EDN had experienced declining enrollment levels even as it faced rising costs.

Board President Rhea Keenan said, “It’s a different world in what parents want in child care.” Not only are more nursery schools and childcare centers providing full-day care, she said, but some, like the McGaw Y and Bright Horizons, have facilities such as larger gyms and pools for swimming lessons.

After careful analysis, reflection and exploration of all possible options, the EDN board released a statement saying they had decided it was not financially possible to remain open. At every step, they said, they had considered the best interests of the children and staff as the first criterion for decision-making. The board notified parents about the closing on July 2.

The EDN board praised “our incredible teachers, whose dedication to the children and commitment to high-quality education is unparalleled [and who also worked] to support families through this transition.”

Other Evanston institutions provided additional assistance. “We worked very closely with the Childcare Network of Evanston [CNE]. They have been very helpful in guiding us,” Ms. Keenan said. With CNE support, EDN secured spots at other child care centers for every one of the 21 students who would have continued at EDN.

Many of these children have enrolled in the Child Care Center of Evanston, 1840 Asbury Ave., which has “really stepped up to the plate,” Ms. Keenan said. CCC closes the last two weeks of August, said the Center’s executive director, Lindsay Percival. Ms. Percival said like EDN, the Center experienced a drop in enrollment after the financial crisis. But “that seems to be changing,” she said. With the former EDN children signed up – especially in the slots for subsidized care – CCC currently has just seven vacancies for September and may be full earlier than usual.

CNE Executive Director Andrea Densham said she that the closing of the school pointed to deeper issues in early childhood education. She said she is “glad that staff could help EDN families find a new home” but added, “We need to think beyond a crisis” and envision “what it means to create a system that works.”

Ms. Keenan expressed the board’s pride in EDN and its long history, saying, “Not many organizations can say they have been in business for 101 years.” Despite the pain of its closing, the board looked to the school’s enduring contribution: “While we are very sad to announce the closing of Evanston Day Nursery, we know its legacy will live on in the lives of the thousands of children who have passed through our doors.”

EDN’s furniture and toys will be sold and many of its books donated to CNE. And along with the intangible benefits of a strong educational foundation, each child left EDN carrying a concrete souvenir: a book chosen from the school’s large library.

The Bigger Picture Of Losing a Childcare Center

Andrea Densham, executive director of the Child Care Network of Evanston, said the closing of Evanston Day Nursery illuminates the larger problems in “”a[n] early childhood education system that doesn’t work.””

Preschool teachers, said Ms. Densham, “”work with inadequate compensation””; non-profit organizations operate preschools without adequate funding; and families are asked to pay a disproportionate part of their income for child care.

“”Yet we know how important early childhood education is,”” she said. “”Early childhood education works well; it changes trajectories,”” she said, adding that investing in early education has been shown to have good results, while the failure to invest in it has poor ones.

The problem is not easily solved, Ms. Densham said, and will require a “”multi-layered approach.”” In the short term, child care institutions must have the fiscal support of private givers and the City, she said.

Longer term, Ms. Densham said, the society needs to “”work at the state and federal levels”” and to “”look at new models for financing”” early childhood education. Among other things, she says she would like to partner with the business community, which stands to benefit from the “” well-equipped work force”” that can result from a good educational start.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...