Name of the Game

Springfield Day Nursery Goes Forward to ‘Square One’
Joan Kagan

Joan Kagan believes the name ‘Square One’ properly conveys the importance of early childhood education.

When a brand has been around for 124 years, any thoughts of changing it — be it through a name, a look, or both — need to be backed up with some pretty good reasons for doing so.

At Springfield Day Nursery, administrators and board members believed they had many, especially the general thinking that the key words in the name — Springfield and nursery — were simply, well … obsolete.

The former, because the company has opened a new facility in Holyoke that makes it a truly regional venture, and the latter because the term ‘nursery’ implies simply child care, at a time when the company’s mission is broader and more focused on early education and preparing children to learn.

“The name Springfield Day Nursery just didn’t work anymore,” said President and CEO Joan Kagan, adding that, after much talk and work with a consultant, the company settled on a replacement — Square One — that it believes conveys all that the old name didn’t.

“Everything starts at square one,” said Kagan. “That’s why we chose that. During one’s first five years, the stage is set for all future growth and development — cognitive, social, emotional, and even physical. That’s why preschool is so important.

“It’s not just about caring for children, which is important, but not the entire story,” she continued. “You also need to encourage and stimulate and support the development of children. ‘Square One’ conveys all that.”

The new name will grace five facilities operated by the company, including the new, 8,000-square-foot center within the Holyoke Health Center that opened its doors late last month. That operation, the company’s first foray into Holyoke, was prompted by recognized need in that city, and an opportunity to meet it, said Kagan, adding that the expansion re-emphasizes Square One’s mission and its commitment to meeting it.

In this issue, BusinessWest looks at how ‘Square One’ came to grace the doors and stationery of this Springfield-area institution, and how the change represents going forward, not back.

Learning Curve

Kagan told BusinessWest that talk of a name change surfaced several times at SDN over the past several years. The reason is simple: the industry has evolved considerably since 1883, and especially over the past decade or so, and the terms ‘nursery’ and ‘day care’ no longer reflect what progressive service providers offer today.

The pending expansion into Holyoke — something that’s been in the planning stages for more than year — prompted SDN’s board to revisit the name-change issue several months ago, said Kagan, adding that it was a changed mission, not geographic reach, that ultimately convinced the board to take the bold step.

And even then, it was a hard vote for some. “One board member told me that her head said ‘yes’ when it came to changing the name,” said Kagan, “but her heart told her ‘no.’”

Such is the level of name recognition that SDN had (and still has) in the region, she said, adding that despite all the equity the company has in that name, change was necessary.

“The term ‘day care’ is being phased out,” said Kagan. “The name Springfield Day Nursery was very appropriate 124 years ago, when this really was a nursery and took care of children and diapered them and fed them and rocked them and sang nursery rhymes to them. It was a good place for working parents to place their children when they went to work.

“Over the years, Springfield Day Nursery has adopted its programming to reflect research that demonstrates that between birth and age 5, 85% of one’s brain development occurs,” she continued, “and ‘who you are’ is developed.”

Elaborating, she said those first five years comprise what she called “windows of opportunity” for learning and also cognitive, social, and emotional development. If those windows are missed, she explained, it’s difficult to recapture them later on down the road — and it gets more so as years go by.

Recognizing all this scientific evidence and the clear picture it paints about the importance of early childhood education, administrators at SDN knew that, despite all the equity tied up in their name, a change was necessary.

Darby O’Brien, owner of the advertising and marketing agency that bears his name and was eventually hired to create a new brand, said this realization facilitated the re-branding process and created the energy needed to carry out the assignment amid strong emotional attachment to the original name.

O’Brien said his agency first became involved with Springfield Day Nursery several years ago, when SDN administrators approached one of his clients, Charles Epstein, president of Epstein Financial Group, for some form of corporate contribution.

Instead of writing a check, Epstein instead launched a program to encourage area businesses to ‘adopt’ area children and help underwrite the cost of their early childhood education through participation in a scholarship program called Get Off on the Right Foot. In a series of ads the O’Brien agency created, Epstein implored area business owners to “make a difference,” and help strengthen families through scholarships. Several chose to participate.

Through his work with Epstein, O’Brien said he gained some unique perspective on the SDN mission, which he applied to his assignment to help create a new name and look for the institution.

A number of options were considered, he said, but Square One quickly emerged as the most appropriate, because it speaks to the essence of the mission.

Kagan agreed. “We needed to find a name that exemplified who we are,” she said, “and that we do advocacy, parent education, and support; are one of the leaders of early education and care; and are advocates for change.

“The name indicates who we are and what we do,” she continued. “We get kids off to a good start, and we’re preparing future employees for area companies; Square One is where is all starts.”

The new name and imagery will grace four facilities in Springfield and new one in Holyoke that Kagan said was born purely out of need, as evidenced by some telling statistics.

“They showed that in Holyoke 37% of the children entering kindergarten have not had a a quality pre-school education,” she said. “And when I talked to the superintendent of schools, he said the number was actually much higher than that. Knowing those statistics, we made a decision that Holyoke would be a place where we could provide services.”

Kagan said the new facility, which started with 32 children but has capacity for more than 100, would serve a constituency that, by and large, is not being served by existing providers, in part due to capacity issues, but also because many of the families in questions are not aware of the programs or state funding available for them, and don’t know how to access services.

Thus, the main challenge for Square One is one of outreach, something smaller early-education providers cannot do easily,

“These are children who weren’t going anywhere,” she said, referring to early-childhood-education facilities. “We’ve been doing huge amounts of outreach, going into homeless shelters, abuse shelters, and housing projects and finding families that need some help accessing services.”

Building Blocks

O’Brien told BusinessWest that his firm has handled a number of re-branding efforts involving both companies and nonprofit agencies, and ranked Square One’s the smoothest to date.

Cooperation from a large board of directors has been a factor in the ease of transition, he said, but a bigger one has been recognition of the need to rebrand.

“There’s a lot of emotion and equity tied to this name,” he said, referring to Springfield Day Nursery, “but as board members looked at their programs, they knew they had to go in another direction.”

That would be forward to Square One.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]