Friends of Montessori (“FOM”) has significant concerns regarding the new interpretation of the Texas Education Agency’s PreSchool Eligibility policy within HISD and the impact it will have on the existing Montessori programs. While we understand that HISD must comply with TEA policy, we reject HISD’s new interpretation of the policy and proposed application of the policy at an individual campus/ program level. Since 2015, the policy has existed as a guide to help HISD shape appropriate district-wide policy for non-tuition preschool eligibility only. There was no change or modification to the policy this year and no TEA directive for the HISD policy changes to the Pre K program. The district has been complying with the policy since it was enacted. Further, the policy was never intended to dictate district policy as to how tuition-based preschool is handled. The policy only dictates that the district must have space in PreK cumulatively across the district for all eligible students, but it does not dictate a requirement to hold all spaces open at individual campuses for non-tuition students only.
Friends of Montessori (“FOM”) wholeheartedly supports providing high quality preschool for our city’s most vulnerable students and is actively working to open new Montessori campuses throughout HISD that would include expanding more Pre K 3 and Pre K 4 opportunities in the district. However, we do have a problem with using this policy as the reason to make devastating impacts to existing Pre K programs on our Montessori campuses.
Applying the policy to the tuition preschool eligibility is outside the scope and intent of this policy. Having these program changes are fully at the discretion of HISD and the timing and long-term impact to the programs should be discussed prior to implementation. We cannot afford to make uneducated changes to successful programs at the detriment of our existing and future students.
Why is this change to the Montessori program critical?
Montessori is a unique and specialized curriculum. A defining tenet of a Montessori education is multi-age classrooms that follow a three year cycle with the same teacher. Without this central tenet in tact, outcomes for students will suffer and the authenticity of the program is in question. Certification will never be achieved without this tenet remaining in place and the overall integrity of the program would come into question.
Friends of Montessori supports a weighted lottery in which low income and high risk students, under the policy termed “eligible”, are given first priority to preschool spaces. FOM also supports a weighted lottery in which all enrolled Pre K students at a school are given first priority to Kindergarten spaces. Giving eligible students priority at Pre K 4 only to remove them from the school at Kindergarten is counterproductive, and disrupts the community in a Montessori classroom, impacting the learning of children who are on a three-year education plan. Changing the class makeup at Kindergarten does not increase equity or work toward closing the achievement gap.
FOM does not support holding open any spaces until the first day of school. This is impractical and illogical. During the 2018-2019 school year, HISD has witnessed a record drop in enrollment, while at the same time the two existing Montessori programs have waitlists of over 450 students for Pre K 3 and over 550 students for PreK 4. FOM advocates for expansion of preschool within HISD so that all students may have access regardless of eligibility. FOM wishes to work with the district to open new Montessori campuses so that all families who want a Montessori education have access within HISD but we cannot do this by dismantling the core principles of the programs themselves.
In conclusion, we implore the district and administrators to expand Pre K for all students so that HISD students can have the educational start they deserve. Specifically as to the Montessori programs, we advocate that the three-year learning cycle not be disrupted, and that a weighted lottery be used for admissions that will result in priority and service to “eligible” children. We ask for HISD’s continued understanding that the Montessori programs have unique needs as a curriculum and we hope to be an advocate for growing the Montessori programs across HISD.