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.
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.
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.
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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