BERLIN – A popular local daycare will reopen under new ownership this summer.
Dee Shorts, the Worcester County Public Schools chief academic officer for pre-k through eighth grade, has partnered with Nan Howe, a retired Ocean City Elementary School teacher, to open Sunny Start Learning Center at the facility previously known as Beary Best Day Care. Beary Best closed almost two years ago after decades of caring for local children.
“We wanted to fill that gap Beary Best left open,” Shorts said.
Shorts and Howe, who both spent years teaching at Ocean City Elementary School, said Beary Best, which is located on Friendship Road, had always had a great reputation.
“It really feeds to Ocean City Elementary School and we were always super impressed with the kids that came from Beary Best,” Shorts said, adding the area had lost a mainstay in child care when the center closed. “With our background in education and our love for kids and community, we just thought let’s try.”
She and Howe started talking about the possibility in December.
“When Dee came up with this idea I said oh my goodness,” Howe said. “It was really a community need.”
They were even more excited about the possibility when they contacted Beary Best’s owners, the West family, and toured the building.
“It was like the kids walked out yesterday,” Shorts said.
They agreed to lease the space and are planning to open the Sunny Start Learning Center in August. They have space for 30 kids and are currently in the process of hiring employees. Shorts said they were excited to secure retired Worcester County Public Schools teacher Georgia Wierengo as the center’s director. Before she taught for the school system, Shorts said Wierengo had opened Little Lambs Learning Center.
“We knew we needed somebody who’d look at this place as their own,” Shorts said.
She said having a capable director was also critical when she was still working full-time for the school system and Howe was busy as an education consultant. When asked if she was concerned about any conflict of interest considering her position with the school system, Shorts said she was not. She added that she’d consulted Superintendent Lou Taylor regarding her plans early in the process. She said Sunny Start would not be a pre-k program.
“This is going to be a child care center,” she said.
Shorts said the center wouldn’t be in competition with the schools but would support the schools, particularly Ocean City Elementary.
“Our job is to just support the school system,” she said, adding that Sunny Start would accept children as young as infants and would offer before and after school care.
Howe and Shorts said they were making some cosmetic changes to the facility but planned to hold an open house Aug. 11 and welcome kids on Aug. 16. They want to make sure the center is open before the school year begins. Community interest is already high, as Howe said the Wests were getting calls from people interested in sending their children to the facility.
“I feel so proud we’re able to step in the shoes of Mr. and Mrs. West and continue the tradition of Beary Best,” Shorts said.