NEWARK -- Parents and city officials have worked for the past six months to save a fiscally embattled preschool program, illustrating what can be accomplished when the community rallies together.
Those efforts have closed the funding gaps for the Newark Preschool Child Care Program and boosted its enrollment to 36 students -- three times higher than the low of 12 children last summer.
"We've got more kids now ... than we've had at this time in the past three years," said Kristopher Teague, a Newark parent who led the charge to organize volunteers. "I think that's a telltale sign that we're making progress."
The city-run program has provided preschool instruction, child care, physical exercise and educational field trips since 1989, earning it many fans among Tri-City-area parents.
But dwindling enrollment was creating an operational deficit of $100,000 per year, said Newark officials, who announced seven months ago that they planned to close the state-licensed preschool.
An immediate public outcry spurred city leaders to keep the school open indefinitely, with one condition: that parents channel their impassioned support into leading the preschool into the black.
Since then, volunteer parents led by Teague have raised the program's visibility in several ways. They handed out fliers at city events, staffed booths at summer fairs, marched in the Newark Days parade and took part in the city's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
Volunteers also created accounts on Yelp and Facebook, encouraging the program's supporters to share their positive stories.
They then filmed a three-minute video and posted it on YouTube, and used the promo to spruce up the program's new page on the city website.
Lastly, the city raised the weekly rates, which were from $126 to $176 per student. Now, the weekly tab for each student ranges from $193 (for Newark residents) to $200 (for nonresidents).
The multipronged strategy seems to have paid off, as the school added 15 students in November and December, said Diana Pratt, the program's new supervisor.
Parents say the operational deficit has been reduced and talk of closing the school has subsided. "It's been a joint effort," Teague said. "Parents, teachers and the city have all stepped up."
But some volunteers, such as Becky Tigri, say they won't stop until the program is full. With enrollment capacity topping out at 48, the program has space to add 12 more students.
"Sending your child to a school and knowing they're going to be cared for -- nothing is more important than that," said Tigri, whose 5-year-old daughter attends the program. "But we can't let it fall of the ledge, or all of this will happen again."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
Where: Newark Community Center, 35501 Cedar Blvd.
Who: For children ages 3 to 5
Cost: $193 to $200 weekly
Info: 510-578-4438 or www.newark.org