After Marcy-Newberry closure, 106 students wait for Head Start seats

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When Marcy-Newberry Association closed its doors on June 28, the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services pledged to find new placements for the 230 children affected.

But as of mid-July, the city had yet to enroll 106 of the students, and some early childhood providers say they are concerned about the city’s ability to find space close to families’ homes.

Out of the students who attended Marcy-Newberry, says city spokesman Matt Smith, 66 will attend kindergarten in the fall. Another 58 are attending programs at Chicago Commons and El Hogar del Nino. (The city has promised that extra funding will follow the students displaced from Marcy-Newberry, giving the agencies that enroll them extra spots for the foreseeable future.)

“The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services will continue to monitor enrollment and work with the remaining families to assist them with enrolling and with securing alternate resources for services,” Smith wrote in an email. “We expect to have all of the children transitioned by the beginning of the new program year in September.”

El Hogar del Nino CEO Mario Perez says that seven children from Marcy-Newberry are in classroom spots, but another 13 are on a waiting list because there is not space for them. His center is located just down the street from Marcy-Newberry’s Fosco location.

At the end of August, however, the agency plans to open a new classroom. It’s requested additional preschool spots from the city to help it serve the remaining Marcy-Newberry students.

Kim Johnson, program director at El Hogar del Nino, says that in the meantime the agency referred more than a dozen students from Marcy-Newberry to other child care providers that have space. But she’s not sure if all the families she talked to found a place to go, because many needed programs in their neighborhood.

“[Parents] felt like they were in limbo and they were scared they wouldn’t find placements,” Johnson says.

Gads Hill Center CEO Maricela Garcia says that in the wake of Marcy-Newberry Association’s closing she is concerned about the future of other early childhood providers.

She says that, just as with the closure of the Jane Addams Hull House Association, “there wasn’t a plan” when Marcy-Newberry closed its doors. (Before the Hull House Association closed in 2012, it served over 1,000 children a year in its preschool programs.)

“If we don’t learn from this, when are we going to learn? There were enough rumors, enough information in the community about Marcy-Newberry that [the city] could have stepped in and asked for a transition plan, or some plan,” Garcia says.

Bryan Stokes, director of programs at Gads Hill, is concerned that an overall lack of preschool in North Lawndale – particularly a lack of physical classroom space, even more than a lack of funding — may make it hard for children from the agency’s Marcy Center location in North Lawndale to find services.

“Even if we get extra slots from the city… [other organizations] aren’t going to be able to absorb all those kids,” Stokes says.

This article has been updated to correct Bryan Stokes’ title.