Just in time for the start of school, the Day Nursery has a new executive director.

Dr. Catherine Eason

Catherine Eason comes to the early education non-profit with extensive experience, enthusiasm and a passion for seeing young minds grow. With a doctorate in organizational leadership and 25 years of experience working in early education, Eason is most excited to hear the Day Nursery students laugh and learn.

“It makes you feel good,” said Eason. 

It’s been just over two weeks since Eason’s first day with the Day Nursery and she’s taken on the new role with gusto, enjoying her time teachers and getting to know the kids and their families. Each morning she is out there greeting students and each afternoon she says goodbye. 

“These past two weeks have been heaven for me,” she said. “Just seeing their faces and them getting to know me and trying to say my name – it’s been awesome for me.”

The experience has been rejuvenating, according to Eason, who took a three-year hiatus from early education to work in an administrative position with the federal government in downtown Chicago. She found that work unfulfilling.

“What was missing was this daily interaction with children and parents,” Eason said.

She’s already made quite the positive impression on at least one child. Eason told Wednesday Journal she was invited to Paris by one little boy she met when he was dropped off at the Day Nursery on her first day of work. 

Oak Park and River Forest Day Nursery | File

 They reconnected later that day on the playground, where he told her “his life’s story,” called her “his favorite,” and then shared the news that Eason would be traveling to France with him and his family. Unfortunately, the family left for their Parisian vacation without her.

“He didn’t tell me they were going this week,” she joked. “I thought we were going later.”

The Day Nursery is an Oak Park institution that has provided early childhood education since 1912. It is the community’s only full-day program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children that provides financial assistance to low- and middle-income families. 

Located in a beautiful, historic home at 1139 Randolph St., the nursery is a welcoming environment for all kids between the ages of two and six years old with its own publicly funded preschool and year-round full-day programming. Making nutrition just as much a priority as quality education, the Day Nursery has its own kitchen and provides healthy meals and snacks to its students. 

“It’s great to have Catherine on board; she’s really positive and inviting and engaging,” said Michelle Arnold, Day Nursery board president.

Before Eason, the Day Nursery executive director was Cari Christoff, who left last January to become executive director of Cornerstone Children’s Learning Center. Christoff headed up the Day Nursery for just under 10 years. Her departure, Arnold said, was unplanned. 

In the time between Christoff’s exit and Eason’s arrival, the Day Nursery was able to maintain its early childhood education program, increase enrollment and engage with families and its community partners, thanks to collaborative efforts by the Day Nursery staff, its board and its interim executive director, Kira Smith, who teaches at the nursery.

Eason has a master’s degree and bachelor’s degree in early childhood development and education. She began her career working with Head Start, an early child care and education program through the City of Chicago for children ages three to five who come from low-income families. Eason also previously served as the site director for the Salvation Army’s child care program in West Humboldt Park and as the director of early childhood education programs for Marillac St. Vincent Family Services.

 Her doctorate in organizational leadership, however, set her apart from the other candidates vying to become executive director of the Day Nursery. The nursery is an entirely independent non-profit, so it cannot rely on leadership structures provided by larger organizations or religious institutions because it has zero affiliations to those groups. Eason’s skill and aptitude will fill that gap in the Day Nursery’s operations.

“We needed somebody with that kind of background and experience,” Arnold said.

Eason said she plans to provide consistent, hands-on leadership while building lasting relationships with staff and parents, whom she hopes to inspire to get more involved with the school. She also brings her understanding of what other, similar programs are doing, providing a wider perspective.

“The other part is that knowledge of having someone here that wants to work with everyone, children and families and staff can look forward to a new and bright beginning for the school year,” she said.

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