To those who know her it should come as no surprise that when asked to reflect on her career, Cindy Mitchell spent more time praising others than talking about her own accomplishments.
Cindy was the Director of the Bettye Hyde Co-operative Early Learning Centre (formerly Bettye Hyde Cooperative Nursery School) for almost 27 years. On her 25-year anniversary she offered IMAGE readers a personal retrospective. You can read her Oct. 2018 article online at: home.imagesandyhill.org/2018/10/twenty-five-years-at-bettye-hyde-co-op/
When she first started at Bettye Hyde, the nursery school in the basement of All Saints church was run by volunteer parents whose shifts supported the few paid staff. Now Bettye Hyde has a beautiful home with nine paid staff and, thanks to Cindy’s hard work, a successful business model that has been able to weather the business interruption imposed by the current pandemic.
Cindy’s retirement, planned for April 2020, was unfortunately precipitated by the discovery, just before Christmas, that her breast cancer had returned. Although a succession plan was in place, there were only two (very emotional) weeks for her to say her goodbyes and hand over the reins to Janet Leblanc, long-time Bettye Hyde educator who, along with educator Lisa Lajoie, has closely collaborated with Cindy over the past 20 years. Cindy insists on sharing credit with Janet and Lisa: “The three of us really envisioned building Bettye Hyde together—expanding and hiring more staff—I could not have done it without them.”
Now recovering well, Cindy is of course having to adjust to retirement in this era of isolation, but she is managing to keep busy and maintain social relationships. An active and founding member of the refugee sponsorship group Everyone’s Sister, she is helping one of the children with home schooling via videoconference. She is also involved with a group of neighbours making masks that are helping to raise money for the Ottawa Foodbank. (The group of neighbours calls itself the Mask Makers and has raised more than $15,000 at time of writing.)
And for the time being she is still involved with Bettye Hyde, from a distance—she keeps in touch with Janet regularly, attends the Zoom music class, and has done some recordings for Bettye Hyde’s YouTube channel. (For more on that, see article p.12.)
Working at Bettye Hyde was not just a job for Cindy, it was another home. “Bettye Hyde is a very special place. [It] is not just a daycare, it is an extension of the child’s home,” she says. The centre is guided by the core value that every child should be accepted as an individual and every family welcomed. Bettye Hyde has always been a mixed community, with families from diverse backgrounds and with a profound awareness of the surrounding community. Cindy strongly adheres to the well-known adage “It takes a village to raise a child.” She is proud that the training colleges recognize that this model of early education provides the best quality of care, and Bettye Hyde is always accepting and mentoring high-quality students.
Even when the daycare grew from a nursery school to an Early Learning Centre, it was never about making money. Cindy praises the dedicated staff who always put the children and the centre first, to their own detriment at times. “The staff give so much of themselves,” she said.
Another big accomplishment for Cindy, and one for which she credits the volunteer board of directors for being so progressive, is the early adoption of fair compensation and health benefits for the staff in a field that unfortunately has never been justly recognized.
In 2003, Bettye Hyde attended an anniversary celebration of the school she co-founded 60 years earlier and observed, “You are doing exactly what we always wanted early childcare to be.” For Cindy, that was the highest possible compliment.
Again, Cindy is so grateful to others— the board of directors and the parents. “Working at Bettye Hyde, I always felt valued; parents always respected us and supported us,” she said.
Cindy’s connection to Bettye Hyde families and Sandy Hill was all the more special because her own son Deni attended the nursery school, and so she became friends with other parents at a time when she had just moved here from Winnipeg. “Bettye Hyde is a very special place and my life in Ottawa has been a very happy one, thanks to the love and friendships I found there. I will miss the Sandy Hill community very much,” she writes.
While Cindy’s advice and mentorship has been instrumental to the new director during these challenging times, Cindy does not plan to carry on a formal role with Bettye Hyde, though she does not discount eventually sitting on the board of other daycare centres.
Cindy has utmost confidence in Bettye Hyde’s incredible staff and board. She appreciates that her advice is still valued, but she knows that the ship will sail on, perhaps to new destinations.
Until the community can gather together to say thank you to Cindy in person, here are some of the things that former Bettye Hyde parents and staff would like you to know about Cindy.
Cindy cultivated an amazing team of early childhood educators that has made Bettye Hyde one of the top day cares in the city. What is most amazing about Cindy is her unlimited capacity to love and see the potential in every kid. She was a huge resource and reassuring to me, especially when I felt out of my depth as a parent! —Lynn Marchildon, alumni parent
Everything I have to say about Cindy is also true about her sidekick [her husband], Kurt. Cindy has always been a profoundly decent and sincere person. Being helpful and wanting the best for others are essential parts of her nature as is her good sense of humour. There is no drama with Cindy. Her affection and caring attitude towards Sandy Hill and its residents, especially its little ones, will be missed. —Dean Pallen, alumni parent
When we hired Cindy in the early 90s, we were impressed by her experience and liked her very much. And then we started seeing and learning what the “co-operative” in the school’s name could really mean. She became a valued and effective partner with parents, the church landlord, other pre-schools, government officers, and of course the children. All were, in the nicest possible way, challenged to be involved and work together to improve things. This continued for 27 years. As Karen Junke (who steered the search committee) remarked, “Now that was a good hire!” —Jane Waterston, alumni parent
The first time I met Cindy, what began as light chitchat moved easily into a more in-depth conversation. My initial thoughts were what a warm, caring and calm person she was…someone who takes the time to genuinely listen. These first impressions have proved to be true over the 25 years I have known her. I have also got to know her social side; she truly enjoys people and brings her sense of fun to any occasion. Cindy has influenced generations of children and parents with her thoughtful, caring nature, infusing them with her strong values and sense of honest joyful play. I feel blessed to be one of the many recipients of her enduring friendship. —Diane Whalen, alumni parent
For twenty years I had the honour of working with Cindy—much of the school’s success is a result of Cindy’s passion and commitment to both our school and our community. I have learned a lot from Cindy, she is both a mentor and a friend. —Lisa Lajoie, Bettye Hyde educator for over 20 years.
I could go on forever talking about Cindy. For over 21 years she has been a mentor, a friend, a confidant, a work-mom. Bettye Hyde has been a labour of love for all three of us (Cindy, Janet and Lisa). [Taking over the role of Director] has really opened my eyes to all of the behind-the-scenes work.. Cindy had such an amazing career, it is very sad that a commemorative did not happen [yet!] —Janet Leblanc, educator and now Director.