Even before Matthew Vassar founded his college, Poughkeepsie had begun to develop an extraordinary ecosystem of schools serving ages preschool through adult. And like any thriving ecological system, Poughkeepsie’s schools serve different functions and thrive in different niches. Some schools have public funding and some are privately funded, mainly by tuition, but all of them, public and private spend about two-thirds of their income on salaries, healthcare and other benefits for employees. And those employees turn around and spend money in the area too, be it on lunch or on housing taxes. I maintain that Poughkeepsie’s educational ecosystem is vibrant and will help it become the city it is destined to be. The choices we have are remarkable:

Our world class universities stand out nationally and internationally. New Paltz is now one of SUNY’s leading schools, and its vision of how the Hudson Valley will develop is compelling. Marist has become a nationally ranked university with its emphasis on communication and technology, and Vassar’s powerful commitment to engaged pluralism is setting it apart from the nation’s other liberal arts colleges. Underpinning the success of so many local students is the work of Dutchess Community College, supporting and guiding locals on to careers and further education.

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In the PreK-12 realm there are more options, again public and private or independent. Some schools are private because they want to teach religion. Other schools cast themselves as independent because they want the freedom to teach the way they have researched to be most effective. For example, Poughkeepsie Day School, the school I have the honor of leading, has been teaching independently since 1934. We believe that education can be interesting, challenging and relevant if you encourage children from the early ages to ask, “why?” and give them a curriculum that serves rather than molds them. And yes, like the other independent/private educational institutions, we charge tuition, but we make ourselves accessible to all families by using our aggressive flexible tuition policy. Other private/independent schools have similar ways of making their education accessible. The better known part of the the ecosystem, the public school system like Poughkeepsie City Schools, Arlington and Spackenkill, rely on public money in order fund their schools, and each of these school systems have their own style. And while the city’s public school system finds itself in the news more than it would like, no one is knocking the hard work that all the members of the community are putting in to make it better, the teachers, parents, the administration and the Board.

Finally, the ability to find quality pre-school education, whether in a small home setting, or in a national chain or as part of a PreK-12 School, like Poughkeepsie Day School, or even as part of a college, like Dutchess Community College’s daycare center or Vassar’s Wimpfheimer Nursery School, is crucial to Poughkeepsie’s continued economic growth. Families need to know that their children are safe and are being given a strong start in life –endless research shows that strong preschool experiences make for a strong students throughout their careers. This variety of choice, these opportunities that the people of Poughkeepsie have to look at different schools, whether it be for their toddler or potential college student, are a sign of strength, independence of thought and passion for the future. No one wants to live in a place where everyone goes to the same school, and thinks the same way. That choice to say, “This is the kind of education I want for my child” be she 3 or 13 is what is going to make Poughkeepsie great and again, and by extension it will help the complex eco-system of the Hudson Valley at large. Education in Poughkeepsie is on the go!

Ben Chant
Poughkeepsie Day School