NEWARK -- Parents who convinced officials to not close a financially struggling city-run preschool, on the condition that they help promote the program and boost enrollment, have spent the summer trying to back up their words with action.

They have raised the preschool's local visibility, while persuading Newark officials to offer a deal: any parents new to the program will enjoy a discount, as the first week will be free of charge and the $50 registration fee will be waived, said Kristopher Teague, a Newark parent who led the grass-roots effort.

Just three months ago, the Newark Preschool Child Care Program, which serves kids ages 3 to 5, was on the verge of closing, falling prey to budget cuts and dwindling enrollment. But Teague and other Tri-City-area parents swarmed a City Council meeting in June, criticizing staff employees who authorized the closure. They also offered the city an olive branch, asking for more time to increase enrollment while they volunteered time and effort to better market the program.

City Manager John Becker and David Zehnder, Newark's recreation and community services director, chose to give the preschool another chance, keeping it open indefinitely.

"We've got a really good group of parents," Zehnder said. "We've met with them twice this summer, and they're so enthusiastic."


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The group has spent the summer planning promotional strategies at monthly meetings, said Shauna Butler, a parent who praised the preschool for preparing her son for kindergarten, where he starts Monday.

While working with Zehnder and other city officials, the volunteer parents have created a new webpage on the city's website, staffed booths at summer fairs including the recent Fremont Festival of the Arts, placed ads on a billboard along Highway 84, and recruited volunteers at the senior center to pass out fliers promoting the preschool.

Next month, volunteers will staff a booth at Newark Days, the city's annual celebration of its 1955 birthday, as well as walk in the festival's parade with a banner and T-shirts promoting the preschool.

The parents also have sought to increase the program's online presence in basic ways, such as posting reviews on the school's new Yelp page. They also plan to create a Facebook page by the end of the month. "It's all about giving the program visibility," Zehnder said.

Their efforts are paying off: The program's enrollment has nearly doubled since July 1. They started then with 12 students, and now have 23. Now, their goal is to add 25 more to reach the preschool's maximum number of students.

"During the school year will be the telltale time whether we can get enrollment up," Teague said.

Zehnder said he has been pleased by both the parents' help and the enrollment figures but acknowledges that challenges lay ahead. "I'm encouraged," he said. "But the goal is to get enrollment up to 48 students, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

newark preschool child care program
WHERE: Newark Community Center, 35501 Cedar Blvd.
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays-Fridays
COST: Newark residents: $193 per week, Nonresidents: $200 per week
INFO: 510-578-4434 or email maggie.ratcliffe@newark.org