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Copyright 2016. Watchung Cooperative Preschool. All rights reserved.

Watchung Cooperative Preschool

​A community learning through play:

connecting parents, teachers & children

History of the Watchung Co-Op

Watchung Cooperative Preschool is the longest continually operating preschool in Montclair. The school was established in 1967 as the Watchung Church Cooperative Nursery School and was based in the Montclair Community Church at 143 Watchung Avenue in Montclair. The church was nestled into a residential area, with no other churches or nursery schools nearby at the time. It had Church School facilities, but no preschool program. Many of the church’s members, themselves parents, thought a weekday nursery school would be a nice idea, not only for the church itself but for the neighborhood as a whole.

In September 1967, the first class of four-year-olds entered the Watchung Cooperative Nursery School. Their teacher was Betty Bailey, a well-know religious leader in Montclair.  In that first year, the school’s children attended class four mornings a week.  After two successful years, the school added a three-day-per-week afternoon class, taught by Marsha Brock.

In the 1970s, after a fire at the church and sale of the property, the school was relocated to 71 Mt. Hebron Road, where it leased space from the Montclair Heights Reformed Church. The school was renamed the Watchung Cooperative Preschool and ceased to have a religious affiliation.  

From the very beginning, Co-op teachers have had a strong tradition of dedication to our school and a history of longevity. Many Co-op alum will remember teachers Susan Cilento and Edna Lowbey who taught through the 1970s and into the 1980s. In 1984, beloved teacher Pat Martin joined the staff at the Co-op and remained for 30 years until her retirement in 2014, having taught hundreds of Co-op graduates.  Current director Christi Porter Johnson began at the Co-op in 1998.  Our other Co-op teachers are parents of Co-op alum.

In 2014, the Co-op moved to its present location within the First United Methodist Church of Montclair at 24 North Fullerton Avenue.  The move was precipitated by the dissolution of the Montclair Heights Reformed Church congregation and the sale of the church building, but the result was a happy one for the Co-op since it put the school into its big and beautiful new space right in the heart of bustling and vibrant downtown Montclair.  

Despite some changes along the way, the Co-op is run today in essentially the same way it ran when it first opened its doors: an executive board of school parents administers the school, overseeing its finances and general operation. Our mission has remained constant too: teaching small children that school can be a fun place and enabling parents to be part of their child’s first school experience.