3, 4 Close The Door

Like many Westporters, Jordan and Karen Schur were happy to join the 3, 4 Open the Door family.

The Wilton Road preschool had a great reputation. Since opening in 1994, owner Cyndi Zeoli created a warm, welcoming environment, with a creative curriculum, low student/teacher ratios, and a stable, caring staff.

The Schurs’ son and daughter were happy. Jordan spread the word; several friends enrolled their own kids there.

3, 4 Open the Door (Photo courtesy of Yelp)

On May 12, Zeoli invited every family to an important meeting 4 days later. Quickly, she moved it up, to 6 p.m. the next day.

Families that could not attend in person logged on virtually that Friday. Zeoli told them that the school had been sold to Chabad of Westport, next door on Newtown Turnpike. The sale would close July 1.

The last day would be June 3 — 3 weeks away. She agreed, however, to remain open 2 weeks beyond that — though only until 4 p.m., 90 minutes earlier than the usual 5:30 closing.

Parents were upset — and angry. The contracts they had signed with the school required 60 days’ notice before withdrawal. Zeoli gave them just over half that — at a time when nearly every preschool had already enrolled students for the coming year.

Many parents were counting on 3, 4’s summer program for their youngsters. Suddenly, they scrambled to make plans.

One parent said that Zeoli had lied just days earlier, responding to questions about spots for the upcoming fall.

Others — who had paid in advance for a a full year — said she had taken their money, despite knowing that the school would close.

Zeoli circulated a list of preschools in the area. Unlike 3, 4 Open the Door, only one was open all day, like 3,4. Many of those with morning sessions had just one or two openings left.

On Monday, Schur called Chabad. He wanted to se if there was any flexibility for the 30 or 40 families about to lose child care.

Director Dina Kantor was “great,” Schur recalls. He learned a couple of interesting things.

Chabad did not need the building until the end of August — not immediately, as Zeoli implied.

And Chabad had a couple of empty classrooms. Perhaps the preschool could use them during the summer.

Schur also broached the subject of Chabad renting back the Wilton Road facility to 3, 4, for use until September.

Chabad of Westport — formerly the Three Bears Inn.

He emailed what he’d learned to a 3,4 teacher. The staff too was scrambling, for employment.

The next day, Zeoli’s son Robert — the business manager — emailed Schur. He said:

It has come to my attention that you spoke to the Chabad regarding the sale of the school and the timing if [sic] its closure. We have no intention of changing the closing date of 3, 4 beyond June 17th.

If you want to speak to the synagogue about enrolling your kids in their program, that is your business, but do not involve us, the other parents at 3,4, or our staff in any way.

If you want to pursue this further, I suggest you speak to our attorney.

The final 3 weeks were difficult. Zeoli removed playground apparatus, and many toys (yet still charged full price).

She did not allow parents to attend “graduation,” saying, “one of our fathers has stirred up a tremendous amount of animosity amongst the parents. I can’t selectively tell parents to attend so as a consequence no Parents are invited to attend.”

A mother arranged for an ice cream truck on the final day, so families could be together one last time. Zeoli allowed the gathering, but said it had no connection to 3,4 Open the Door.

The truck got stuck in traffic, and never arrived. Parents trooped across Wilton Road to the Country Store, and bought popsicles for the kids.

“That sort of sums up the end of the year,” Schur says.

For nearly 30 years, 3, 4 Open the Door operated on Wilton road.

He knows kids are resilient. He knows too that he and his wife are fortunate to have secured spots at Old Hill School, which opened their doors to families needing coverage, and teachers needing jobs. Create in Wilton did the same.

Schur has moved on, from anger to sorrow.

“3, 4 was a Westport institution for 25 years,” he says. “This should have been a fond farewell, sending Cyndi into a well-earned retirement. She took care of kids for all those years.

“Instead, to me, she ignored 30 or 40 families at the end. She left a stain on her legacy.”

(Cyndi Zeoli did not respond to a request for comment.)

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26 responses to “3, 4 Close The Door

  1. It sounds as if the parents believe the pre-school belonged to them; that the owner was their servant and needed their permission to make decisions about her own business.

    There’s also an accusation that the preschool owner “had taken their money, despite knowing that the school would close.” The implication is that the owner did not refund the money. Is this actually the case?

    As a grandparent to kids with two working parents, I do not belittle the difficulties of securing childcare, but from the raucous complaints of these parents — e.g., not allowing a “graduation” — I can see how serving this kind of uber-demanding clientele would wear down a small business owner and edge her into retirement.

    • Zach Bilchik

      It’s easy to fling accusations about parents and how entitled they are when you clearly have no idea what transpired or what situation we were all forced in to.

      As a parent of one of the children and had another that was set to enroll next year, this was handled very poorly. The negotiations for sale were ongoing for over a year and once the deal was agreed to, there was a 2 month gap between when the parents AND staff were informed. The bottom line is the owner did everything possible to ensure her revenue stream was maintained with no thought given to what this would do to the kids she had undertaken to care for, or the lovely people she employed. As mentioned in the article, the school was being dismantled piece by piece around the kids for the last 3 weeks they were there, even though the reason given for having to close early, before the actual end of the year, was so she could clean out the school. Lets also not treat the owner as if she was forced into early retirement, she sold her property for millions.

      As a grandparent you should have a bit more empathy and a little less vitriol (as shown in your other comment on this article) for the parents that were left scrambling to find care for their kids. I suggest you talk to your kids and get a little perspective from them before ranting and smearing people you know nothing about on a blog comment section. This isn’t about entitlement, it’s about common decency and thinking about the impact decisions have on others.

      • Actually, I did read the parents’ POV. It was all that was included in this piece. It’s the owner’s position that was not included, perhaps by her own choice because she decided to move on with her life, rather than argue or threaten about breach of contract.

        Since what happened is long past done, and Westport parents are better able than practically anyone else in the world to deal with this kind of adversity, I think it’s common decency not to attack a lady’s character in a public forum out of spite.

    • Debbiei O'Malley

      I don’t think there is any implication that she kept their money. Quality early childhood education is incredibly important, and a limited resource. Many of the area preschools are not-for-profits with parent boards, this particular one was not. Having been a preschool parent and board member not too long ago, I know that enrollment occurs back in February. Deposits are taken, first tuition installments (or payment in full) have been taken by now.

      There is a huge trust factor between parents and preschools. These are very young children and in many cases, the first experience the family has with childcare outside the home. Working parents need a tremendous degree of confidence that their daily arrangements are solid and reliable. Learning 3 weeks before the end of school that their plans for summer and this coming fall are out the window is hugely stressful- especially when there is limited capacity elsewhere to absorb this additional unanticipated demand.

      Parents are upset because they feel their trust was taken advantage of, not to mention their short-term working capital. The owner obviously knew she was in negotiations to sell the property. Chabad of Westport is firmly installed at their current location and have invested a ton of money on improving their facility, and they wanted the building across the street. This meant that Ms. Zeoli had leverage – there was not something else they could have purchased in its place. There was likely no need to sell it so quickly, except that she wanted to close her business. In that case she should not have conducted it as if she was going to be operating in the next school year- for the continuity and security of the students, her employees, and the families.

  2. Dorrie Barlow Thomas

    What an unfortunate end for a loved preschool 🙁

    Was this building the site of ABC Nursery School back in the 70’s?

  3. Neal Herman

    What a disappointment. Sounds like parents were just looking for common courtesy and support during a tricky time for all sides. Sad to see an institution leaving families scrambling with such little notice or organization.

    • I guess this story is sort of a “Rorschach Test” for how one views the attitudes of today’s Westport parents. To me, the parents involved come off as incredibly spoiled and obnoxious, and the owner was unfairly vilified, undoubtedly causing her personal distress. (And, no, I do not know her.)

      • Excuse me, but I don’t understand how being passionately concerned for one’s children’s welfare is “spoiled and obnoxious.”

        • Jessica, one can be passionate about their kids’ welfare without impugning another’s character in a public forum. Before social media came about, I rarely saw personal attacks in print against a business owner or public official around here– other than in election season. Today, it’s commonplace to vilify someone when “you don’t get what you want.”

          Also, re: those who take umbrage at my criticism; they are a group. Unlike Ms Zeoli, not one of them is having their reputation harmed by my comments, They’re just angry because they expected validation via this piece, and I’m disagreeing.

      • Elizabeth Thibault

        Expecting contracts to be honored and having honest and transparent interactions in this type of relationship is not acting spoiled. Reliable and trustworthy childcare isn’t an entitlement, especially for working parents. Their distress is less important than hers? You might feel like childcare suddenly closing is not a big deal for anyone in Westport, but it is. Many of us have flexible and understanding employers, but not to the point where we’d be able to watch our young children *and* work.

  4. Chip Stephens SHS 73

    This all echos that old 60’s Jeannie C Reilley tune Harper Valley PTA
    “Well, this just a little Peyton Place and yer all Harper Valley Hypocrites….”

  5. Richard Johnson

    Here is what the article says: the owner had plenty of notice that the school would be closing. Instead of promptly informing parents so that they could make alternative arrangements (which she would know would likely be difficult), she acted as if the school would continue to operate, including taking tuition money. The delay in disclosing this left some parents out to dry and was a breach of contract. Then, the owner further breached the contracts by closing the school early (presumably because she sold and thus has little incentive to honor contracts), blaming it on the sale. Then, parents learned that excuse was either a lie or reflected the owner’s unwillingness to accommodate the major inconvenience of suddenly closing down the school and cutting the hours, since the buyer was willing to allow the school to continue to operate. When raising this with the owner, the parents got a “talk to my lawyer” email.

    I’m not sure how you read that and come away with “wow, these parents sure are entitled!” I see a business owner who left customers (who presumably pay many thousands of dollars a year for a critical service) in the lurch and refused to honor her legal obligations. While I’m not going to be spilling any tears over a cancelled graduation ceremony for kids who’ll never remember it, I also can see how that would upset parents who just had the rug pulled out from under them and basically got the middle finger in response. If the owner’s been in business in Westport for 25 years, she should know how to deal with helicopter parents.

  6. Alina Rodescu Pitchon

    If you took the name “Westport” out of the equation, you would still be left with a situation poorly handled. No one is saying Ms. Zeoli wasn’t entitled to do with her business as she wished. However, she had ample time to do the right thing and give the parents plenty of time to make other arrangements. It’s called having a conscience. It’s not entitlement, it’s being a parent and wanting to do your best for your child. It was vengeful to not let parents attend graduation. If you don’t want to be exposed, don’t lie. It’s simple.

  7. Mackenzie Berman

    My child attended this school for a brief period. I never felt Cyndi loved her work. She seemed completely “checked out” even 2 years ago. I felt my child was physically safe there, but that was about it – which is why we made a change. I am not surprised to see the school close in this brusque manner – it’s the same way it was run. Very sorry for the parents left scrambling (and being vilified for sharing their experience).

  8. Elizabeth Thibault

    Quality childcare that is safe, dependable, and nurturing isn’t a wild privilege, it’s one that allows parents to *work,* which many of us NEED to do in order to have the basics like food in our bellies and a roof over our heads. (This isn’t unique to Westport, families from all over the country need childcare just so they can support themselves.) It’s not as easy as just calling a nanny, many are are more expensive than many parents can afford, individual childcare providers can’t offer the same reliability as a program provider, and have limitations that make it difficult for them to be able to cover the 8:30AM-5PM hours needed for full-time care.

    This current situation echos how the childcare program at the YMCA was closed with scant notice in 2014, leaving many families in a dire situation without childcare alternatives and the staff feeling blindsided and bereft. (An administrator involved in that situation was accidentally honest about his feelings and judgement about working parents, and said kids should be home with their mothers, anyway.) As parents we organized to help do research and share information on alternatives and options. We were exceedingly lucky to meet with the director of Earthplace’s preschool and the administration, who saw an opportunity to would allow them to create a full-day program and serve unmet needs in the community. The staff that moved to Earthplace are still dear in our hearts.

    There are other excellent childcare programs in Westport, but as many of these parents have discovered, they’ve missed enrollment windows and spots are fully booked. We do not have the capacity to meet the childcare needs of our residents, even outside crisis situations like this:.
    When I was pregnant with my youngest child 5 years ago, I started looking for spaces in an infant program. Despite it being 6 months before my due date, and looking for spaces that would be open when she was between 4-6 months old, there were no openings. Spaces were all full with expected infants from families that were already enrolled in the schools, but I was told there might be infant spaces available 2 years from that point. (Those kids weren’t even conceived yet!) Even at a $2400-$3200 monthly price point, programs had more demand than capacity. After touring 17 programs, between the Darien and Bridgeport lines, we found an excellent fit for our family in a Norwalk program. I consider us lucky, even with having 1.5 hours a day in roundtrip commutes to and from the school, and paying ~ $25k a year, (which is a lot but also much less than many others pay.) It’s well worth ensuring our daughter is cared for in a safe, stable, nurturing, and developmentally appropriate environment.

    As a country, we really suck as supporting parents. There’s plenty of a trade offs and compromises we make as part of our life choices, but god, could we give folks a little empathy with the struggles that people face in just trying to do right by their kids?

  9. Peter Evans

    To anyone responding to the nonsense put forward by
    “Peter Blau”, please understand that he is clearly nothing but a troll and
    (I’m just guessing here) probably wrote what he wrote simply as a way to try and get a rise out of everybody. I’m guessing that this guy was a Westporter many years ago yet now he is just trying to take shots at people he sees as the newbies in town.
    His points lack substance and are devoid of any and all facts.
    This school closure was clearly handled poorly—-and unprofessionally—from
    a timing perspective.

  10. David J. Loffredo

    Finding the right childcare so that you can return to the workforce is one of the most stressful things a young parent goes thru. We did it the first time in 1998, I still have flashbacks.

    The grandpa comments attacking the parents are not helpful, sad actually, go take a nap.

    This isn’t the entitled crowd everyone loves to attack – that crew has au pairs, nannies, or the luxury of staying home and not working.

    Good luck moms and dads, you’ll figure it out.

    • Mackenzie Berman

      Well said David.

      Perhaps for a different thread, but what is it about the baby boomer generation anyway? They are by and large the least empathetic, most disgruntled group people I’ve ever encountered. What a way to go through life. And by the way, the current generation of parents they love to attack? We are products of them…

      • I’m a baby boomer, Mackenzie. On behalf of my peers, I apologize. I love your generation, BTW. You bring life and excitement to Westport — the same way my generation did, once upon a time. I have no idea how some of us lost their way.

        • Mackenzie Berman

          And we love you too, Dan! I’m sorry, it’s unfair to generalize but it’s become so commonplace (including from the baby boomers in my life that I happen to love) it’s hard not to. Keep showing others (and all of us) the way 🙂

          • I am very glad I grew up when and where I did. I consider myself very fortunate.

            I am so glad I’m not a kid these days. But I also think the future is n excellent hands.

            Meanwhile, to learn something about another (great) generation, the one that preceded mine, check out the obituary I posted earlier today on Lois Schine: https://06880danwoog.com/2022/07/20/remembering-lois-schine/

            Without her, and so many other men and women who moved here in the 1940s and ’50s, and volunteered their time and talent in so many ways, this town would not be what it is today.

            And let’s not forget the generation that preceded hers: The Westporters of the 1920s and ’30s — particularly those in the tight-knit community of Saugatuck. They laid the foundation for all who have followed.

        • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

          Dan, IMHO you have absolutely nothing to apologize for. You have always been a person of grace and style. I am a boomer and have always felt that our generation, unlike it’s forebears and successors, pretty much handled it’s crises by kicking the can down the road. The current “young adult” generation is picking up the tab. But you tend to see the best in people.

      • Michael Pettee and Martha Burnett

        Baby boomer here. On the other hand, MacKenzie, sometimes I wonder if, lately and unfortunately, has simply become OK to be mean. And as the “adults in the room” [some] baby boomers seem to be leading the way in this.

      • Cyndi Zeoli

        It’s so easy to spew falsities and half truths through social media. It’s actually a very cowardly way to go about trying to defame someone’s character and reputation. I’m not going to waste my time defending my business plan for closing. 3,4 served many wonderful families over the past 30 years. For them I am grateful. My reputation will, I’m sure, stand on its own.