I Quit My Job and My Life Changed by
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Prompted By Changed My Life

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Cartoon by Marcia Liss

Of course, there are so many pivotal days that change a person’s life. For me, what pops into my mind first is the day I met my spouse at a movie in college, the day 54 years ago we married, and the days our children and grandchildren were born. These are very personal events that impacted my life and shaped the person I am today. But when I free-associated about this week’s prompt I thought about the day what my kids call my fourth child, Cherry Preschool, was created. But I am getting ahead of the story. To open that door, I had to close another one.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

My life-changing day, January 13, 1992, was the day I quit the job that I had held for seven years as a preschool director in a church. But it felt even more momentous because all of my children had attended that preschool and I had taught there, so it had been an important part of my life for closer to 17 years.

The events that led up to this day unfolded over a few years. While parents and teachers fought hard to maintain the non-sectarian school we all loved, a new and more conservative minister made it inevitable that change was coming. Ultimately, I had to admit it was over and I resigned on January 13, 1992.

At this point, I had no idea what I would do. I thought about returning to teaching English or perhaps looking for a directorship elsewhere or staying home and coughing from the asthma unleashed by the stress and construction dust in the building. I never expected what followed my letter of resignation and how it would set into motion the thing that changed my professional life.

The same day I submitted my letter, most of the members of the nursery school board resigned, followed by the resignation of the entire teaching staff. Holy cow! I realized I had a school and a board and just needed a place to put it. No problem, I thought, let’s start our own school. Several parents and teachers were happy to join me in my delusion that it would be easy to start a new school. We were all so angry over the endless negotiations that preceded my resignation, and righteous anger is a powerful motivator. But community and sharing a common purpose soon became the driving forces.

Amazingly, our new board for our imaginary new school met the day after I had resigned. Its agenda included how to raise funds, how to find a location for the new school, and how to register families for a program that was just a concept at that point. We needed to solicit funds, materials, and supplies from any source that was sympathetic to our plight, as we had to leave everything but ourselves at the church. We had no toys, storage units for them, tables, chairs, easels, or art supplies to put into our non-existent building … in short, we had nothing.

The sense of responsibility I felt for the teachers, parents, and especially the children who were ready to follow me was both exciting and overwhelming. What I learned on that day that changed my life was that I really had everything that mattered. I had a community of parents, leaders, and learners. The rest was simply logistics.

In exactly nine months, we gave birth to Cherry Preschool (known that first year as Evanston Developmental Preschool). It was a huge team effort, and being part of it was a truly amazing experience. I learned to trust myself and to value the importance of people coming together to serve a cause greater than themselves. The day my professional life changed, I understood the importance of walking the walk hand-in-hand with like-minded people and having the courage to follow my dream.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Khati Hendry says:

    What an inspiring story Laurie! Clearly you were not struggling alone, but had strong relationships with the others working at the school, such that they not only followed your lead to quit, but to join with you to build a better school together. That is indeed life-changing, and so positive. It was the right step no doubt.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      It definitely was. The school is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. While I have been retired for a while, I hope to see many of those founding board members and teachers at the celebration. We still have a bond that time has not lessened.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Excellent description of the origins of Cherry Preschool, born out of righteous indignation. Amazing that your entire staff and board followed you out the door of the previous school. Quite the testament to both your strength and the other school’s failings.

    By the way, your description of getting asthma from the stress and construction dust rang a bell for me. I developed it while living through a huge remodeling of our Newton home with two relatively young children (prepping the troubled one for his bar mitzvah), when my mother-in-law was in town and wanted to stay with us (impossible, as we changed every door and window, and had stored all our artwork up in the guest bedroom).

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Ironically, my asthma followed me to the new school, which was also filled with chaos and construction dust. I have a a very recent resurgence and after allergy testing, I need to avoid many things in the environment (mold, dust, ragweed, etc.) and also cats. The latter is a new thing for me. Bummer.

  3. As an early childhood educator who has long been an admirer of everything you have described about the way you directed your preschool and the values that underlay it, I am delighted to finally learn the “origin story.” I also want to take my hat off to your opening paragraph–or more pertinently to you for crafting it. It would be hard to cobble together a stronger opening. It really sets up any reader to want to know the rest of the story. And at the same time, you included what was needed to mollify those “insiders” who know the author personally and who might be asking, “what? you chose to write about the preschool and not about me?” Well done.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Dale. I know my family understands that they always came first in my heart. But for someone who didn’t find her calling until age 40, discovering that these amazing parents, teachers, and children trusted and enabled me to pull off this plan to start a new school was both empowering and humbling.

  4. Laurie, of course I knew much about your Cherry School from your past stories and all have been inspiring.

    I’ve told you before how you remind me of the wonderful director of my son’s nursery school, the most nurturing educator I’ve ever known!

  5. Suzy says:

    Great story, Laurie, and certainly a life-changing moment. I like your first paragraph, distinguishing between personal events like meeting husband or having children, and an event like this one. And I also like how you ended that paragraph “To open that door, I had to close another one.”

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Of course, those personal moments change our lives profoundly. But the experience of resigning and discovering that others would follow me was so surprising and set me on a path I never imagined possible.

  6. There may not be any coincidences (Is everything connected?) but the convergence of people, events and settings (and even your own asthma) did seem to propel you toward a new path. I’m watching a young, gung-ho educator extricate herself from an untenable school work situation and — after a period of confusion, gather a few allies and forge ahead with a new school. A tough but admirable job. Congrats in Retro, Laurie!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Charles. In retrospect, it was truly a convergence of amazing people and that era (1991-92) in which it was possible to buy a building with no down payment and wrangle an extraordinary number of volunteers to get the job done. Not so sure it would have been possible these days.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Of course, Laurie, having read your other stories on the topic, I knew this one was going to end up happily ever after with Cherry Preschool. And knowing how brilliantly you ran it (you are too modest to say as much yourself), it now seems a foregone conclusion. But this story demonstrates that, while your leadership at Cherry may seem like “manifest destiny” to us fans of yours today, your decisions were hardly pre-ordained — and probably a bit terrifying — at the time.

    And I fully agree with Suzy about your first paragraph.

  8. Jim Willis says:

    Hi Laurie, I loved reading your story about how you gave birth to Cherry Preschool and why. Quite a life achievement! You and my mother (although of different generations, of course) have a lot in common. She founded the first educationally sound preschool in our hometown in suburban Oklahoma City. It was Jack and Jill Preschool, and I wrote a little about it in my Mothers Day prompt last May. The school was, like yours, non-sectarian. The difference was that, over the years of its existence, it met in our spacious den which was converted to a classroom, but also spilled over into the backyard playground. As a result I remember that my backyard was the most popular one on the block when I was a kid. But by the time I got to the 9th grade, my changed careers and we were all glad to have the den back.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I can imagine how your mother’s preschool may have cramped your style by the time you were in high school. Still, you must have been so proud of her and having those young ones around your house no doubt shaped the person your became.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    It’s odd (to me at any rate) to read about someone contemporary who FOUNDED a school; they always seem to have been there since forever. Doing that, and not just looking for a new job, was a move of great courage and confidence.

    Your school is very close to Bucephalus, a bike shop that I have long wanted to check out. I’ll give Cherry a wave when I do!

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