NJ-SP School Board Hears Concerns from Owner of Adventure Island Preschool

The possibility of leasing space to another preschool program at the former North Judson-San Pierre middle school building has raised some concerns from the business owner currently utilizing the facility.

The School Board previously heard that the owner of Max’s Playhouse in Culver, Brandy Pohl, was recently awarded a grant to expand her services.

They were told at their September meeting that she has approached school officials about the possibility of leasing space for a proposed all-day preschool program called SEEDs, or Schools Engaging Early Development. However nothing had been officially considered or approved, the matter was only briefly discussed.  

Owner of Adventure Island Preschool Danielle Christensen came before the NJ-SP School Board Tuesday evening to talk with them about how that would impact her existing business that has been housed at the former middle school Building since 2016.

She explained, “My program runs mostly on tuition-paying parents, I have four students that are on a scholarship through the Community Foundation but my salary relies solely on tuition. To tell me that this new program will not affect my business is simply untrue. I cannot compete with a free program.”

Christensen added that during a discussion with Pohl last spring, she was informed that she was considering implementing something with the Culver Community School Corporation.

During the conversation, Christensen said she provided some details about her business and highlighted her desire to eventually bring an all-day preschool program to NJ-SP.

Christensen shared that she was born and raised up in North Judson, mentioned that she and her husband both come from generations of Blue Jay supporters and added that both their children wear blue and gold every day.

She highlighted her community involvement and mentioned that she’s a part of the Blue Jay Strategic Planning Committee. She noted that she coordinates with the Kindergarten teachers to gather feedback about ways to improve her program.

She included that she is a licensed teacher and that she left her position at West Central to create a preschool environment that prepares children for kindergarten and noted that while she may not be on their payroll, she is a resource to the corporation.

While delivering the impassioned statement that she prepared, she said she just wanted to have her voice heard and asked the school board to consider these factors moving forward.

Board President Derrick Stalbaum provided some feedback about the matter, “It would be unethical for us to not allow a group to come in to help children and to choose one business over another.”

Superintendent Dr. Annette Zupin stressed that officials value Christensen and appreciate everything she does for the students. She asked if there was any way they could assure her that her program would be secure even if they lease space for the other program.

Christensen indicated that if there’s a chance this could jeopardize her business, it wouldn’t be a personal thing and there really wouldn’t be anything the school board could do, but she would have to consider the possibility of moving locations to maintain her livelihood.

Dr. Zupin acknowledged that she is looking at things through a different lens than Christensen but said that they thought this would be a positive thing for the community.

She stated, “North Judson San Pierre, not Knox the county seat who tends to get things more frequently than we do, we have a chance to have a preschool wing in our school and for us, and it may be naïve, this is a good thing.”

School board member Jeri Brewer weighed in and said she felt that Christensen has a strong customer base that would stay loyal to her regardless of an additional option.

Brewer encouraged her to have confidence that her business would still be successful.

Board Member Jim Menis added to that and emphasized that community feedback about her program is positive. The other school board members echoed that sentiment as well.

Christensen stated that while she was appreciative of those comments, there’s no way of knowing that housing a potential competitor under the same roof wouldn’t have a negative effect on Adventure Island.

Stalbaum mentioned that he served as the president of a preschool in Pulaski County and shared his experience with that, noting that differing eligibility requirements could result in there being less of an impact than she’s anticipating.   

He told her, “I ran the one in Medaryville, which is actually housed at West Central, right next door to the Head Start and we consistently still have full class sizes, to the point where we’ve actually had to add more, with an entire Head Start program there

Stalbaum added that school board members haven’t heard anything else about this matter since their meeting in September and emphasized that no decisions have been made.