The promise - and problems - are writ small at WJCC's popular pre-school. While the preschool's administration has undergone some instability, parents can not fault the Gibraltar-solid record of the teaching staff. Indeed, Michelle Labgold, the preschool's director, stands behind the nursery's long-standing scholastic reputation.
"We have a wonderful, warm, nurturing preschool," she says. "Our new director, Ellen Green, is vibrant and has 18 years of experience in the field. We have an enriching curriculum. We have a stable staff that has been here for many, many years. Clearly, the fact that we have such a high reenrollment rate indicates something."
In addition to citing an almost 100 percent reenroll-ment, Labgold underscores the quality of a WJCC early education, noting that the preschool meets all of California's high standards. Just this year, it received accreditation by the National Academy of Education of Young Children and by the Bureau of Jewish Education.
Mark and Vicki Rothman say that after attending the preschool, their son's percentile scores in the Stanford 9, a test used by California schools to measure academic progress, were in the upper 90's."Clearly, the background he needed from preschool he got at WJCC," says Vicki, "because I promise you he didn't get it from home. We both work full time."
Academic reputation notwithstanding, the preschool, in recent years, has suffered through a revolving door of center and preschool administrators. Some parents feel the situation was exacerbated by the fact that many of the executives - such as Labgold and Green - commute from the Valley, which makes them unavailable. But Labgold does not feel this is an issue.
"We're always available to speak with parents," she says.
"It would be nice if they had someone who knows the neighborhood," says parent Karen Benjamin, who points out that Tamara Andrews, the former preschool director who left in July, was a local. "I was really sad to see Tamara leave. She was great. She had these monthly Shabbat dinners where she would cook the meals herself and have storytellers."
The fourth preschool director in four years, Andrews says she came aboard in August 1999 with the best of intentions. She says that the two previous directors warned her not to accept the position because of JCC bureaucracy.
"I was going to join the JCC, thinking it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life," says Andrews, who didn't finish a year there. "I was basically fired for complaining too much. I was given two hours to clear out."
Andrews feels that her efforts to create interesting programming were often thwarted by her superiors, and she believes that her departure became a catalyst for the tension swirling around the preschool.
"You have people now from the Valley running the Westside and Westside running the Valley. It's not a community anymore, it's a corporation," says Andrews, who feels that the system would work better "if every school was its own entity and allowed to function independently and not be hampered by bureaucracy. It's just a very difficult environment to work in. Nobody told me I was doing a good job. It wasn't really till I resigned that parents came and told me what a good job I was doing."
In spite of recent tensions, parents insist that the attention given to children by their teachers has never wavered.
"In my experience, there's a firewall between children and the tension," says Mark Rothman. "The teachers that we had did everything to make sure that their classes were warm, happy and an emotionally safe environment, regardless what the situation was, whether it was the North Valley shooting or internal friction."
One would think that dissatisfied parents would be compelled to enroll their kids elsewhere. Despite their criticisms, none are transferring their children.
"Karen Brantley and Debbie Glezer. I like the teachers," says Benjamin, who singles out educator Samantha Loshin as "God's gift to children."
"All three of my kids had an incredibly positive experience," says Maggie Scott, who not only serves on the WJCC board and chairs the Early Childhood Education Committee, but has lived within blocks of the WJCC all her life. Her mother even taught there in the mid-1980s, and her youngest child just finished her final year at the preschool and spent a pleasant summer at Camp Chai.
Says Scott, "We were really happy all the way through. I know families that have continued to send their second, third, fourth child. That really speaks about how people feel about the school."