What in the Sam Hill?
Hill Institute started out as the first free, private kindergarten program in the country back in 1876. The program was started by Samuel Hill who wanted to provide educational opportunities for children ages 3-7, predominantly the children of immigrants who were working in the factories in Florence and needed better access to education. Samuel Hill was a successful business owner and with his wealth he created new organizations in Florence to support equal rights and social reform in the community, of which the Hill Institute Kindergarten was one. He was a leader in the abolitionist movement both locally and beyond - supporting the Underground Railroad locations in Western Massachusetts.
The kindergarten program has stood the test of time and was operating up until March of 2020, with an endowment of more than $8,000,000 as of the 2019 tax filing. The current Board of Trustees decided to close the program in early 2020 citing under-enrollment. And that's when we got involved. We feel very strongly that the Board hasn't done enough to keep the program going. They have prioritized the adult classes, which weren't even part of Hill Institute originally, and have given up on early childhood education at a time when our community needs it so desperately.
Our Hands for Hill campaign is about making sure Hill Institute continues to serve the needs of children ages 3-7 in the community, which was the original purpose and intent of Samuel Hill when he started Hill Institute in 1876. With a current endowment of $8 million and an acute need in this community for early childhood education, the Hill Institute Board of Trustees has a moral obligation to either continue offering meaningful and impactful pre-k programs and/or agree to donate what they were spending on the kindergarten program, $175,000 a year, to early childhood education in Northampton.
The Hill Institute Board of Trustees needs to re-commit to the education of young children, between the ages of 3-7, and can easily do so without sacrificing the wonderful enrichment programs offered to adults.
The Hill Institute Board of Trustees needs to be more diverse (age, race, gender identity and sexual orientation) and representative of all of the stakeholders in the community (parents of school age children, public school educators, experienced early childhood educators, civic and business leaders, etc.). The current Board of Trustees, made up of 8 people, has 4 trustees who have served on the Board for almost 20 years each. There are no young families represented on the Board and haven’t been for decades as far as we can tell.
WHAT HANDS FOR HILL IS ASKING OF THE BOARD SPECIFICALLY:
Bring on at least 4 new Board Members at the November 2020 election who are more diverse (age, race, gender identity and sexual orientation) and representative of all of the stakeholders in the community (parents of school age children, public school educators, experienced early childhood educators, civic and business leaders, etc.).
If the Board is unwilling to provide a meaningful and impactful early childhood education program for children in Florence/Northampton, we are asking for an annual commitment for as long as funds are available of at least $175,000 to help children ages 3 – 7 in Florence/Northampton starting with the 2020/2021 school year. This annual commitment can be in the form of direct aid to reduce tuition or direct aid to the childcare programs in Florence/Northampton.
THE WILL & TRUST
Hill Institute, including the adult program and the $8 million endowment, exists because of the kindergarten program. By ending that program, the Board of Trustees is changing the beneficiaries of the Will from children ages 3 – 7 years old in Florence to adults from all over the Pioneer Valley. Samuel Hill’s vision was “the promotion of a healthy physical, moral and intellectual development of children from about three to seven years of age” (page 2 of his Last Will & Testament). To talk about “the broader focus of Samuel Hill’s vision” while disregarding his primary focus is irresponsible and negligent.
ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES
The Director of Hill Institute is in charge of both the adult program and the kindergarten program. The adult program, with 1000 adults per year, must take up a majority of the Director’s time (the current Director also teaches as part of the adult program). The licensing alone for an early childhood education program can take approximately 25% of an administrator’s time (based on conversations we’ve had with people very experienced in early childhood education), which would leave the Director of Hill Institute absolutely no time for recruitment, enrollment, program development, HR responsibilities, etc. for the kindergarten program. The current Director of Hill Institute is not licensed in early childhood education, which means that the program is limited to a maximum of 13 children. If there was a Director licensed in early childhood education, the maximum would be 26 children.
All of the above is to say that the Hill Institute Board of Trustees has allocated resources to prioritize the adult program over the kindergarten program for years, if not decades. The limitation referenced by the Board is not a limitation imposed by the EEC. It is a limitation imposed by the Board.
While the current Board is made up of some upstanding community members and citizens, because of a lack of diversity and an underrepresentation of the community of Florence/Northampton on the Board, we have concerns about the Board’s ability to understand the needs of children ages 3-7 within the community – the Will’s beneficiaries. We also have concerns about the Board’s lack of transparency and unwillingness to communicate and collaborate with community members.
ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY
Hill Institute started out as a kindergarten program when kindergarten wasn’t available in the public schools - correct. Now kindergarten is available in the public schools. There’s no reason why Hill Institute couldn’t become a pre-k program for children ages 3 – 5 to meet the modern needs of our community (fits within the stipulations of the Will as far as the beneficiaries and Hill Institue was licensed as an early childhood education center and not a kindergarten specifically). Now isn’t the time to turn our backs on the needs of children in this community. Now isn’t the time to take away educational resources as communities all over the world struggle to figure out how to safely and effectively educate children in the time of coronavirus. Now is the time to re-envision how best to meet the needs of pre-school children and their families in our community, and quickly!