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Wed Jul 10, 2019, 04:36 PM

What happened when Brooklyn's oldest nursery school decided to become less old-fashioned?

(I don't have kids; you can't blame me...)

The Cut

The Battle of Grace Church What happened when Brooklyn’s oldest nursery school decided to become less old-fashioned? A riot among the one percent.

When you buy a home in Brooklyn Heights, you aren’t just purchasing real estate, you’re purchasing a lifestyle. The stately townhomes and converted carriage houses, with their window boxes of Algerian ivy winking over splendidly preserved original details — the Grecian columns, the soaring Romanesque windows offering a glimpse of curated furniture — connote a certain level of not just wealth and taste but respectability. These are houses not just for people who have money, but people who have values.

They’re also enormous, which is one reason that, from the 19th-century sea captains with their “great broods of future bankers and fashionable brides” (as Truman Capote put it in his famous essay, “A House on the Heights”) to the “urban, ambitious young couples” with their “Wall Street–whatever careers” that came after, the neighborhood has always been considered “a good place to raise children,” as Capote said.

Capote didn’t have children himself, though if he had, they would likely have attended the Grace Church School on Hicks Street and Grace Court. Located behind a bright-red door adjacent to the landmarked Episcopal church, the school is known as “the oldest preschool in Brooklyn.” And until recently, for as long as anyone in the neighborhood could remember, the school was run by Hope Prosky, who was something of an original fixture herself. Over the course of her 37-year tenure, Prosky gently encouraged generations of Brooklyn Heights children to “expand the cocoon of the little world of home to include and trust in the community.” So familial was the environment that a good number of graduates returned with their own broods to partake in the same whimsical traditions they had as kids: the Japanese Kite festival, the annual Holiday Sing. Of course, New York being New York, many families also left, making room for new families, who paid ever-higher prices for the same handful of properties. But even as the bankers got more bankerly and the wives got more fashionable, the neighborhood remained much the same. Insulated by its status as a historic district, it was unable to grow up, only out, and this Peter Pan quality was part of its charm for transplants from places like Manhattan. To them, Prosky and the fellow teachers at Grace Church — who played “Oh! Susanna” on guitars and dressed up as Pilgrims every year on Thanksgiving — were exemplars of the kind of authenticity they sought in moving to Brooklyn in the first place. “It was this sweet neighborhood school with this kind of loosey-goosey atmosphere,” recalls one.

Then one morning in 2015, one of the school’s 3-year-old charges walked several blocks to her home, surprising her parents, and loosey-goosey started to seem like a liability.

Not long after, Prosky announced her retirement and the rector of the church, which oversees the school, met with the Grace Church School Advisory Board, a volunteer body made up of parents and members of the church, and formed a search committee to find her replacement. Under Prosky, Grace Church had functioned as a “glorified playgroup,” as one parent put it. The children pressed leaves into paper, explored textures, and danced the Wiggle Worm. The atmosphere had often been compared to a “warm bubble bath,” and while this was lovely, there were some who felt the school could turn up the temperature a notch. The ideal director, the board noted in its advertisement, would “embrace our traditions” while being “informed and guided by current research regarding best practice in the 21st century.”

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