With construction of its latest school recently approved by the town of Trumbull, Educational Playcare is a business on the rise. After all, Trumbull will be the company’s 18th location since it began in Avon in 1986.
“We are bombarded with opportunities,” said Gerry Pastor, co-owner with his wife Jane Porterfield of the company, which provides full-time and part-time educational child care programs and summer camp for children from six weeks to 12 years old. While such attention is welcome, he said, “Right now we’re a little weary. Most of our expansion has taken place over the last three years and that takes a great deal of capital.”
While no new construction projects are planned following the scheduled summer openings of the Trumbull school at 111 Merritt Blvd. and another in Newtown at 2 Saw Mill Road, Pastor said, “We’ll be active when the right opportunities come our way.”
Sites are chosen primarily based on demographic studies, he said.
Educational Playcare schools typically serve around 200 children. The Newtown facility will combine 16,788 square feet of new construction on two levels with an existing 2,514-square-foot house, while the Trumbull project will be a newly constructed 16,800-square-foot facility.
Pastor said that both new schools will be in line with the company’s 16 others, featuring from eight to 12 playgrounds. “The state of Connecticut says that no matter how large an area you have, you can only have eight children under 3 years old in an enclosed outdoor space,” he noted. “Most programs have maybe one or two areas outside, but we have as many as we do so that almost all of the kids can go outside at the same time.”
In addition, Educational Playcare schools differentiate themselves from competitors by providing an educational play-inspired curriculum that includes weekly sign language learning and a health and wellness component; the “Quack Pack” program, consisting of weekly music, yoga and fitness lessons; and such security measures as lockdown drills and crisis management training for instructors that includes an active-shooter scenario.
“There are cameras in all the classrooms and we send out pictures and videos to parents every day,” Pastor said, noting that Educational Playcare is in the midst of implementing facial-recognition security at each of its schools.
The schools also employ ZONO machines, which use ozone and a small amount of water to kill what it says are 99.9 percent of bacteria and 99.99 percent of viruses on materials placed inside its refrigerator-sized cabinet.
Each Educational Playcare school is accredited or in the process of becoming accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the world’s largest organization of early childhood professionals, Pastor said.
Porterfield, who earned a master’s degree in early childhood education from the University of St. Joseph in Hartford, began Educational Playcare 32 years ago. “I had the good sense to marry her 28 years ago,” said Pastor, “and to start working with her 17 years ago. A 25-year veteran of the insurance industry, Pastor signed on when his employer, which he declined to name, became insolvent.
Joining his wife in business, “I did whatever she told me to, from painting walls to fixing toilets,” Pastor said with a laugh. “Along the way we became full partners.”
Pastor said he and Porterfield “are the opposite of absentee owners. We know every single one of our employees. It’s not management by the numbers.”
Educational Playcare’s staff numbers about 600 and serves a total of about 2,400 children. While declining to provide specific revenue figures, Pastor said Educational Playcare has experienced “substantial growth. Since 2014, revenues are up about 250 percent and we’re projecting that will increase to 350 percent this year. But that’s partly due to the fact that we’ve opened a lot of schools over the past three years.”
Pastor’s commitment to quality education extends beyond his company. He is the founder and president of the CT Child Care Association, representing more than 300 of the 1,200 licensed child care and preschool programs in the state. Pastor said the association represents the interests of its members in legislative and regulatory matters both statewide and nationally. He also has some 250 followers on a Facebook page dedicated to answering questions about preschool licensing, regulations and the like.
“We talk about improving the quality of our programs on a daily basis,” he said, adding that the group tries to meet twice a year; the next will take place in San Diego in February.