In the fall of 1970, Ann Brown was teaching at the Martin Luther King Preschool (now the Newark Community Preschool). The Brown’s oldest child would be ready for Kindergarten the following year. Ann planned to approach the Newark Special School District for a job. She hoped to persuade them to let her have a room in which to set up a program of independent learning activities for children. A fateful reunion with a colleague from her New York days intervened. Knowing that Ann had a modest inheritance from a distant aunt, her friend asked, “Why not start your own school?”
Tentatively, Ann voiced her ideas to Jean Bohner, Joan Mehl, Elisabeth Curtis, Betsey Granda, and other Newark friends who were parents of young children. They responded with enthusiasm and offers of help. Many of us had enjoyed our children’s active eagerness to learn and their freedom to explore during the preschool years. We wondered if we could create a school that would preserve the enthusiasm to acquire the skills necessary for living in our world.
Informal discussion led to small group meetings, to a search for a building, and to an investigation of the legalities and technicalities involved. It was a rocky, uphill journey. Volunteer teachers and prospective parents (often one and the same person) spent many hours planning and philosophizing. Gradually the dimensions of the school began to emerge. This would be a community school and would include a cross-section of Newark’s economic and ethnic population. No one would be turned away for financial reasons. We would begin with as few preconceptions as possible. Teachers and children would meet in a space (we hoped) and together create a school. Ann would be the director. She and the teachers would make decisions and run the school.
In spring of 1971, after a series of dashed hopes and dead ends we rented the rambling, old, erstwhile fraternity house on the corner of West Park and Indian Road. The school opened in late September of 1971, with fifty children enrolled and four full-time and six part-time teachers. Ann set the cost per child at $500 and asked families to pay for another child. Two of the teachers were paid an annual salary of $5000; one received $2000. The rest were all volunteers, some even paying tuition for their children in addition. The school was christened the Newark Center for Creative Learning.
Teachers met daily after school, often until five or six in the evening. Many hours were spent discussing such things as, “Must the kids wear shoes at school?” and “Should they be allowed to go in and out through the windows?” Gradually we began to realize that we needed the help of the parent body as a whole in making personnel and other policy decisions and in carrying out many of the administrative functions of the school. The first School Committee was elected and standing committees formed.
It was also evident that the system of voluntary tuition was not working. Ann had borne 50% of the operating costs of the school that first year. So, after much deliberation, the new Budget Committee declared a tuition of $675 per child for the school year 1972-1973, which began with an enrollment of 55 and a waiting list.
Then, in the spring of 1974, once again we were hunting for a home. After many hours of agonized discussion, the school community voted not to exercise an option to buy the ex-fraternity house and the new owner gave us one year in which to find other quarters. In late December of 1974, the settlement was finally made on our present property and bids were solicited for construction of the building. Parents, teachers, and children put their heads together over building plans and designs. Most of the financing for the building was provided by a low-interest loan from Ann and Bob Brown. An additional fifteen thousand dollars was raised through the sale of building notes to the parent body.
School opened late in September of 1975, in our new building. The student body of 66 children included twelve new families. The school committee voted to increase tuition and gave each of the six volunteer members of the regular teaching staff a token salary in 1976-77. Through the efforts of Jean Bohner, the school was awarded a grant and the big orange van was purchased, greatly increasing our ability to make field trips a major part of our program. “Big Orange’s” white successor came to us in spring of 1988.
In the summer of 1977, Marilynn Carver Magnani offered a six-week summer program and, responding to the changing needs of our families, we began the extended care program in 1985.
In the 1980’s School Committee chair, Jay Balder led us through a long painstaking period of writing down our financial and organizational policies. He spent countless hours writing them, then we would discuss and pick apart each item. The results have stayed with us, with few amendments, ever since.
In the 1990’s we received two major grants that enabled us to add a library, science lab, and gymnasium and to increase our enrollment to 90 children. We also upgraded the roof and heating system in the original building and purchased an additional van. In 2002 we added one more classroom. Our facility is now complete.
Bette Balder was teaching part-time when Elisabeth decided to move away and Bette moved her expertise to our office and admissions. When Ann decided to “retire” as Director and focus her energies on teaching in 1993, Bette Balder became the Administrative Director and Marilynn Magnani the Educational Director. Ann fully retired at the end of the 2000-2001 school year but retains her position as President of the Corporate Board. Marilynn retired in 2016, and Bette retired in 2018. Kate Kerrane and Kelly Martone are currently Educational Directors. Jordan Bailey joined the staff in 2018 as the Outreach and Financial Director, and Lia Hollis-Jefferson joined the staff in 2022 as the Administrative Director.