Barry Bouthilette: The times they are a changing

Published: 7/20/2020 3:47:25 PM

So, we have the Hill Institute in Florence, the oldest free kindergarten in the country, which has decided to close because they couldn’t find enough children to fill their kindergarten seats this fall. At the same time, we have Sunnyside Early Education and Care preschool set to close for financial reasons.

Perhaps a dialogue between these two organizations might generate some creative solutions to the challenge they and we as a community face — how to educate the next generation of our children.

One hundred and twenty-nine years ago this month, Samuel Hill created his will “for the promotion of a healthy physical, moral and intellectual development of children from about three to seven years of age.” The will is only three pages and it is beautiful in its simplicity.

Samuel’s vision became what we now know as the Hill Institute in Florence, which evolved over the years to become mostly a place where adults in the evening take classes in weaving, woodworking, painting, photography and other arts and crafts, all of them subsidized nicely thanks to Samuel Hill’s will.

Oh yes, there’s also been a kindergarten at the institute, although it’s been dwarfed by the adult program which takes up the bulk of all programming.

Legally, it seems, the Hill is within its power to close the kindergarten because another paragraph in the benefactor’s will says: “Trustees are hereby directed to set apart the balance of said trust funds for education, charitable and other purposes, or either of them, to be appropriated at their discretion in such manner or shall to them appear expedient to promote the well-being and elevation of humanity.

The decision to close “the Hill” may be perfectly legal, but is it in keeping with the original spirit of Samuel Hill? Not really.

Maybe it’s time for the trustees, who have done a truly masterful job of managing the $8 million endowment (yes $8 million), for which they should be commended, should step aside and allow some new, young and diverse blood to carry on the original vision of Samuel Hill. That could be their legacy.

Barry Bouthilette


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