When Stephanie Singer began Riverdale Community Nursery School in 1978, she never dreamed it would still be her life’s true passion well past retirement age.
“I thought then I’d surely be tired and ready to move on to something else by now,” she said. “I’m almost 70 and I can’t imagine stopping now. I still love the work. The kids still make me laugh.”
But after 15 years at 25 Knolls Crescent, the building’s co-op board wants her to move by the end of June. That has left Singer wondering what’s next for the nursery school that has served hundreds of kids over the past four decades.
Singer received a letter earlier this month from Robert E. Hill Inc., which manages the 252-unit property in Spuyten Duyvil, demanding she leave by June 30.
“I wrote them a little letter back and said, ‘No, my lease doesn’t stop in June, it stops in October,’” Singer said. “But if you want me gone by June, I can do that.”
Singer moved the nursery school to 25 Knolls Crescent in 2004 from its original Skyview Shopping Center home. The cozy room in the co-op basement was supposed to be temporary, but Singer found it was a convenient location with a good client pool to draw from. She stocked the room with decorations and toys, and it’s been the nursery school’s home ever since.
And it’s no coincidence the space worked out so well. That part of the building has been home to some nursery school or another since the 1950s. Many of her youngsters, in fact, are the children of parents who attended the previous preschool there decades earlier.
What it lacks in sleek modern amenities, the school makes up for in sincere charm. Singer holds and consoles each of her 15 charges after a skinned knee or hurt feeling. The walls hold the drawings of students who moved on years ago.
“A lot of the people who live here are older folks,” Singer said. They seem to light up when they see the children. The sound of kids laughing is a sort of psychological boost to those nearby.
The school’s relationship with the co-op was harmonious until about four years ago when then Knolls Crescent Cooperative Section 2 chairman Mike Rowe told Singer she needed to relocate.
“I asked him if I could just stay on until I was ready to retire,” Singer said.
Rowe, who spent his own preschool years in that room, spoke to the other members of the co-op board. They agreed to let Singer remain another five years.
“I think he had a real love to the place and for the kids,” Singer said.
But Rowe died in 2017, and soon after, a new co-op board leadership was elected. Their attention turned straight back to Riverdale Community Nursery School, and they were ready for Singer to vacate. She explained to them she had another year, and she heard nothing again until two months ago when the new management company began sending her notices.
Singer asked to stay for longer — even offering to pay a higher rent — but the message has not changed.
In fact, there hasn’t been much communication between her and the 25 Knolls Crescent board at all, even when Singer asked what the co-op plans to do with the space once she is gone.
“I was told it was none of my business.”
Robert E. Hill did not return requests for comment.
Rather than fighting the board, Singer says she’s on the hunt for a new location. She has been in contact with the health department to begin transferring her license to a new location, which she hopes to secure soon.
“If there’s any way to get them to change their minds and let me stay here, that’d be swell,” Singer said. “If not, I’ll find another place.”
But Singer’s not retiring just yet, despite her current situation.
“I might be ready to hang up my crayons by the time I’m 75.”