JULY UPDATES

Saving the Hill Institute Kindergarten Program 
(a full-day, private program that is free to all families)

 

Presented by: 
Kate Bouthilette Cardoso - katecardoso@comcast.net / 781-640-5916
Tara Tetreault Brewster – taratetreault@hotmail.com / 413-588-7434

 

Our Message to the Board:
We, Kate Bouthilette Cardoso and Tara Tetreault Brewster, are alumnae of the Hill Institute kindergarten, class of 1985. We represent three generations of Hill Institute graduates and also 1000+ individuals who do not want to see this institution closed, including 15 descendants of Samuel Hill whose vision and authority created this innovative and progressive program in the first place. What is crystal clear to us is that the kindergarten program at Hill Institute has been a very important part of so many lives and is a very important part of the history and culture of the Florence community. More importantly, the Hill Institute kindergarten is a valuable part of the public education system of Florence and the surrounding communities. We have spoken to countless teachers, educators, school committee members, city councilors, elected officials, and families of young children, and all say the same thing – Hill Institute has played a valuable role in early childhood education in the greater Northampton area for more than a century and continues to be relevant and impactful. As our public school system struggles with severe funding shortages and now the very complicating factors of educating children during a global pandemic (when space and class size are critically important to minimizing the spread of infection), it is even more important that Hill Institute provide an early childhood education program.  

You site decreasing enrollment in the kindergarten program yet your outreach and recruitment have always been minimal at best. In this 21st century, you cannot continue to use 20th century tactics/strategy and expect success. We are committed to helping you recreate this early childhood education program so that it better supports the children, families and public education system of Florence/Northampton. The Hill Institute kindergarten program started out as a progressive and innovative way to address the early childhood education needs of the community. This is our chance to be progressive and innovative in re-envisioning the program so that it better addresses the early childhood education needs of the community now.

 

Financial Viability (per Form 990 dated June 30, 2018 – most recent one available):

  • Endowment - $8,000,000

  • Cost to run the kindergarten program per year - $170,869 (completely free program to families)

  • Cost to run adult education classes per year - $212,899 (expenses minus revenue)

 

Community Support:

  • Website – 891 visits (620 unique)

  • Social Media (Facebook & Instagram) - 3,000+ likes and comments 

  • Online petition – 1,676 signatures as of July 16 (1,513 views and 165 shares)

Letter from Samuel Hill’s Descendants:
This letter was written by the Great Great Granddaughter of Samuel Hill, Karen Ann Learned Dickinson. She and her 14 relatives denounce the closing of the kindergarten and implore the Hill Institute Board of Directors to find a way to keep it open and use the community groundswell of support as a result of this campaign to create an even better early childhood education program for the Florence/Northampton community. 

 

Referencing the Will:
Here are the important, kindergarten program related excerpts from Samuel Hill’s will. If you would like to see the actual will, contact Tara or Kate. 

“4th said Trustees are hereby directed to appropriate annually the balance of said income or such portion thereof as they may deem expedient to continuance as such village of Florence, the Kindergarten so called, which has already been commenced and placed under their care and management by me; said institution to be continued and conducted as heretofore, viz, unmixed with ecclesiastical or theological exercises or influences, and especially for the promotion of a healthy physical, moral and intellectual development of children from about three to seven years of age, and to be open for the admission of children of suitable age, residents of the Village, without distinction on account of race, nationality or previous condition, and is to be extended and continued indefinitely or discontinued, at the discretion of said Trustees;”

“5th…..said Trustees are hereby directed to set apart the balance of income from said trust funds for education, charitable, or other purposes, or either of them, to be appropriated at their discretion in such manner as shall to them appear expedient to promote the well-being and elevation of humanity.”

 

The will of the board to close the kindergarten program was not at all based on the will of the people of this community (and the descendants of Samuel Hill) nor the actual will of Samuel Hill. The spirit of the will is being violated by the closing of the program for no justifiable financial or logistical reason. Hill Institute currently has $8,000,000 that’s very existence is predicated on Hill Institute offering a free early childhood education program for this community. 

 

What’s Next:
We, Tara and Kate, met with three board members (out of eight board members) on Tuesday, June 30 and asked them to reconsider the closing in light of the information provided above. We were told that the decision had been made and the board wasn’t going to reconsider. We have since found out that at least two of the five board members who weren’t at the meeting did not even know about the meeting. We have been trying to get in touch with the other three board members who weren’t at the meeting but it has been difficult to reach them. We are still holding out hope that we’ll have the opportunity to present to the whole board (at their next board meeting on July 17) because there are some really compelling reasons for keeping the program open.

 

We are also looking into legal action with the help of Sean Sullivan, a local attorney, and will focus on that once we’ve exhausted the board outreach along with our community grassroots efforts. We don’t want a fight or a legal battle. We just want the Hill Institute kindergarten/early childhood education program to remain open for the sake of the children and families of this community for many years to come. Legal action will be a last resort but one that we are prepared to take because of how strongly we feel about the program and how misguided we think the decision is to close it.

 

How Tara & Kate Will Help:

  • Build a social media presence for the program and promote it 

  • Community outreach to recruit students

  • Work with educational experts within and outside of the community to make the program more equitable, inclusive, accessible and diverse (by offering onsite special education services such as OT, PT & ESL support, etc.)

  • Find a licensed medical professional in the community who would be more involved in health/medical planning and support and be on call for any questions/emergencies (as required for any early childhood education program/center) 

  • Help communicate, coordinate and collaborate better with the Northampton Public School system to better serve the community

  • Build and maintain a more diverse and representative Board of Directors 

  • Look into ways to get meals provided for students 

  • Come up with low-cost/no-cost transportation solutions for kids who need that to attend (at no cost to them)

  • Find grants and write grant proposals in conjunction with the director to raise additional funds for the program

  • Look into fundraising opportunities to grow/enhance the program and/or make it more sustainable long-term

 

How the Community Can Help:

  • Sign the petition: https://www.change.org/handsforhill

  • Write to The Daily Hampshire Gazette @ opinion@gazettenet.com

    • Letters of up to 350 words

    • Guest columns of up to 750 words 

    • Must provide address and phone number for the Gazette to contact you

  • Contact the Board of Directors via phone, e-mail or mailing address (names and mailing addresses provided here – contact Kate and Tara if you’d like phone numbers)