Joy Hammond sits with students at The Timson Hill Preschool in Williamsville. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Joy Hammond sits with students at The Timson Hill Preschool in Williamsville. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Thursday April 25, 2013

NEWFANE -- Decades ago, citizens banded together to ensure that the historic Williamsville School was preserved as a community-owned asset.

That same volunteer spirit led to the founding and growth of Timson Hill Preschool on the old schoolhouse's first floor.

On Saturday, many who have played a role in the preschool's success will take part in a community celebration and fundraiser to mark Timson Hill's 25th anniversary as a non-profit, parent-cooperative educational center for children ages 3 to 5.

The school was founded "in the spirit of Vermont -- do it yourself. It's a parent-led organization," said JoEllen Tarallo-Falk, a former Timson Hill board member. "Everyone in the village treasures this preschool."

Saturday's event at Williamsville Hall starts with a silent auction from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. The list of items available for bid includes yoga classes, massages, gift certificates for restaurants and shops, local artwork and jewelry.

Local musician Peter Miles will perform during the auction. At 8 p.m., Las Lomas y Sones -- playing classic Cuban music and Latin jazz -- will take the stage.

Organizers said the evening will include homemade food, Latin-themed deserts, a cash bar and door prizes.

While serving as the preschool's annual fundraiser, the event also is a chance to reflect on the school's accomplishments at the quarter-century mark.

Tarallo-Falk said there had been a demand for a daycare facility in Williamsville around the same time that the one-room Williamsville School -- which dates to 1883 -- had gone up for sale.

"They got the idea that this beautiful old place that once was a schoolhouse could again serve children," she said.

The volunteer-run, non-profit Williamsville School Preservation Society Inc. was formed to take control of the building. And the daycare became Timson Hill Preschool, which rents from the preservation society.

The Timson Hill Road school boasts grounds that include trails, fields and a frog pond. Director Kathie Gatto-Gurney says that's a perfect environment for a program that emphasizes educational playing.

"We try to create a joyful learning experience so that they love learning," she said.

Gatto-Gurney has been Timson Hill Preschool's director for about a decade, and she believes times are changing for preschools as more public school administrators look to incorporate such programs into their standard offerings.

Nonetheless, Timson Hill has grown, hosting more students and offering more scholarships.

Tarallo-Falk sent two children to Timson Hill. She also has seen and taken part in some big changes over the years, including the preschool's obtaining national accreditation.

She said administrators began pursuing that accreditation in 1999, when only 7 percent of the nation's preschools had achieved such a distinction.

"We went through a very long, three-year process to meet all sorts of criteria," Tarallo-Falk recalled.

The school also has obtained a five-star rating from the Vermont Department of Children and Families.

Tarallo-Falk believes parents seek out Timson Hill in part for its emphasis on creativity. But she also believes the school's success is a matter of local pride and practicality.

"People wanted their children close to home in a small village school," she said.

Administrators point out that the preschool's success also is a story about historical preservation.

The Timson Hill Preschool in Williamsville. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
The Timson Hill Preschool in Williamsville. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)

"We've been really delighted that the Timson Hill Preschool has been so successful," said Joan Weir, president of Williamsville School Preservation Society. "They've been a great tenant."

Society members will be on hand for Saturday's event along with others who will share memories of the preschool. One of the school's first teachers, Pat Halloran, is expected to participate.

Admission is $10, and proceeds support preschool programs and scholarships. Anyone seeking more information or advance tickets can contact Gatto-Gurney at 802-348-6319 or timsonhill@myfairpoint.net.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.