Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

JBall honors Carol McNally


March 2, 2018

Carol McNally

What's a nice Irish-Catholic girl doing in a Jewish preschool? Making it the best Jewish preschool in Central Florida, that's what! Carol McNally, director of the Richard S. Adler Early Childhood Learning Center, has been at the preschool for 29 years, and she is retiring on May 31. But before she leaves, The Roth Family JCC will be honoring her with the Harriet Weiss JCC Legacy Award at the annual JBall on March 14.

"Carol has inspired countless children as the director of our Richard S. Adler Early Childhood Learning Center for the last 29 years," said Keith Dvorchik, CEO of The Roth Family JCC.

Bonnie Friedman hired McNally as a teacher back in 1989. After six years of teaching 3- and 4-year-olds, she was offered a position as a team supervisor, eventually stepping into Friedman's shoes as director.

"Who would have thought when I started 29 years ago, they would have a non-Jewish director," she said. "You don't have to be Jewish to run a wonderful Jewish school. You just have to be passionate and love the culture, the heritage, and the traditions."

McNally has a straight-forward, no-nonsense persona, with a New England accent (she hails from Dover, Mass.), and sounds a bit like Rosie O'Donnell. She is proud of the school and proud of the reputation she has built in the community as a strong leader. She is a "go-to" leader-a director who has given her administrative team the ability to think out of the box, and the confidence that if they have a good idea to let them run with it.

"I have a strong administrative team-it's a team effort, I can't do this alone-that works really hard," McNally stated.

She also has immersed herself in learning all the Jewish holidays, and "did a lot of research" about the culture and traditions. Even though there are children from non-Jewish families as well as mixed marriages, she said "everyone is welcomed here, and exposed to all of [the Jewish traditions]. There's none of the Christian holidays here, but we celebrate all the Jewish holidays in a big way!"

During this interview, McNally said they were preparing for Purim. The children would come in costume and the teachers were going to put on a crazy skit on stage.

With a degree in elementary education, McNally taught preschool in the private sector in Massachusetts for several years. "I chose the preschool route because I just love the little ones, and I like the private sector and nonprofits."

Six months after McNally and her husband moved here, she was hired at the JCC's preschool.

"It's fun to work for a place that is recognized in the community," she said. "I'm proud to say I work at the JCC preschool. I've heard a lot of random comments from everybody about how great the school is."

And memories – so many fond memories about the people she has met: The parents and their children are No. 1, "They have enriched my life."

The staff, "Lots of teachers have come through here, and some moved on to great things. But my core staff has been here about 20 years. That says a lot of who we are."

Speaking of the staff, McNally encourages the preschool teachers to go on to higher education. "The J has put about 100 teachers through child development credentials, which is another level of education," McNally stated. "For some, that's 120 hours of vocational training, for others it's 2 to 3 credit courses to get certified in early childhood education. I'm proud the J has always given me the opportunity to allow me to access the scholarships for them and then [the J] picks up the balance."

One of McNally's former teachers received her master's degree through a scholarship program and is now training teachers in early childhood education at Seminole State.

"Some of those teachers may eventually come here!" she said.

It's hard to separate McNally from the Jewish preschool. For her it is like these are all her children. When the JCC community suffered three bomb threats in a very short period of time last year, McNally and her team moved all the children out of harms way without showing any fear. To the children it was "a great adventure. They were on a field trip."

"No one ever questioned how we handled it-beautifully. We're trained for that. The adrenaline kicks in and ya do what ya have to do, and do it without instilling any fear," McNally stated almost matter-of-fact.

The bomb threats cost the Jewish preschool. Many parents withdrew their children from the school.

"It's a hard call," said McNally, who understood the parents' choices as times have changed. She pointed out the need of staff to staying vigilant about safety procedures. But the one constant is the children. "Children haven't changed. They are gentle, inquisitive, want to please and they love us and are joyful. That's why my job is joyful."

When McNally first came to the preschool there were over 400 children enrolled. That was when there were morning and afternoon classes, so rooms were double used. Now there are about 300 children enrolled full time, with wait lists.

"A good amount of the families have come back and we've rebuilt the population," McNally said. "We are now looking at a health enrollment for fall 2018.

A fall enrollment McNally won't be a part of. However, she does not plan to stay "retired" very long.

"A job is probably going to find me before I find it. I don't think I could stay home! I've worked all my life and I think staying home wouldn't be the best thing for me."

What does McNally see in her future? "A part-time job, maybe 25-30 hours a week."

Working with children? "Probably. Maybe getting back to my roots and getting into a classroom teaching. I think that there will be lots of doors all over for me when I make my journey from the J."

The JBall will be held Wednesday, March 14 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Orlando Science Center, 777 E. Princeton St. There will be heavy hors d'oeuvres, an open bar, live entertainment, a silent auction and gaming tables.

General admission is $100/ preschool and J University parents, JAO families and seniors (65+), $75. Babysitting is available for $15. For more information, call Keith Dvorchik at 407-621-4042.

All proceeds benefit The Roth Family JCC.


Reader Comments(1)

emma2015 writes:

Wish we could attend to salute Carol. My son was in her first class at the J and I taught there at the time. It is an honor to have known her as both a peer and a parent. All the best to Carol and I hope you all have a fabulous evening.


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