Sue Riley established Open Door School in September 1966. Sponsored by the Unitarian Church of Charlotte, it filled a desperate need for more facilities for five-year-old children in a state with no public school kindergartens. At the time, the churches in the area assumed the primary responsibility for providing kindergarten classes for their neighborhoods. Children went from these into public first grades.
However, there weren’t enough church-sponsored kindergartens to fill the need. Those that existed were segregated and open only to the white, paying middle class. Mostly, these schools were sectarian, reflecting the particular religious beliefs of the churches sponsoring them. With some exceptions, they were educationally rigid, academic, and unimaginative.
Open Door was designed to fill a need and offer kindergarten experiences to children of all races and economic levels. Leading educators believed that five-year-olds denied the kindergarten experience because of race or economics began first grade seriously handicapped. A scholarship fund was established so that no child was excluded because of a parent’s inability to pay. Enrollment of minority children was not only encouraged but actively sought.
Our school was also created to offer early childhood education that would foster creativity and thinking skills, not simply rote learning. The school was, and is, fastidiously non-sectarian so that children of varied backgrounds feel comfortable and accepted.
When it opened, the school served about forty children. A kindergarten class was held five mornings a week, and small classes for threes and fours were held in a second room, alternating morning sessions. There were three teachers.
The school is located in a natural, woodsy setting in the educational wing of the Unitarian Universality Community of Charlotte. It now serves about 100 children with a considerably larger staff. Open Door has responded to community needs over the years, adding classes for two-year-olds and an extended full-day program for children of working parents.
When the public schools added kindergarten classes, Open Door phased out most of its classes for this age group to support the public schools. Later, a five-year-old class was reestablished in response to a growing demand for non-academic half-day programs. In 1989, Open Door School was accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It was the first preschool in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to receive that recognition.