The Duval County School Board has implemented new procedures for the lottery process that will require our four year old students to reapply for kindergarten at our school. Our School Advisory Council has drafted the following petition to the school board in response to the new rules:
Dear Duval County School Board,
We write on behalf of the J. Allen Axson School Advisory Council regarding the newly adopted procedures for the lottery process, and more specifically, having four-year-old students reapply for kindergarten at our school. Our input was not requested in the consideration for enacting this new rule, so we write on behalf of concerned parents at the school to share our input. We hope we can be part of the process in the future and if nothing else, hope the School District will consider our input as it is our school community (and John E. Ford) that will be most intimately impacted by the proposed procedures. With this letter, we voice our concern about the impact the rule will have on the Montessori process and offer suggestions about ways we can work with the School District to meet the School District’s goals without the damaging impact that the current proposal may have on our school community.
Maria Montessori described the Montessori classroom in the following way:
There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where children of differing ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness. There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it, which comes through experience of freedom within the community.
This new lottery procedure not only affects individual students, but also our Montessori community as a whole. The Montessori classroom model is dependent on a multi-age community where students are introduced to and acclimate to the community while mentored by the older students in the classroom. As students progress, they grow into leaders in the classroom. Consistency in the students’ environment, teacher, peers and Montessori structure is a critical part of the growth and learning.
The District’s newly adopted lottery process is harmful to the Montessori structure. Indeed, there are two glaring examples of negative impact. First, the new policy likely removes children that were already two years into their growth and mentoring process and places them in a completely different, non-Montessori setting. The dramatic change in the model and process would deprive these children the important final step of mentoring and teaching the younger students in their community.
Secondly, the new policy would introduce new kindergartners into an environment that asks them to serve a role in a classroom environment that is two years in the making. This impacts the new students, but also takes familiar mentors and peers away from the students in the classroom for rising kindergartners that are not welcomed back. While we certainly do and will continue to welcome new kindergartners to this role, the potential wholesale replacement of all or even many of the rising kindergartners in a specific room turns the Montessori model on its head. The new kindergartners will be learning the process along with new pre-K3 students instead of mentoring and leading those new pre-K3 students through the process. All of a sudden, the rising mentors are removed from the process.
The new lottery proposal is also already having a negative impact on our lottery applications. Parents seek to enroll their children at Axson specifically because of the Montessori process described above (and also all of the other wonderful aspects of Montessori learning). Parents have commented that re-applying two years into the process is nonsensical. During our tours and in our letters to potential new families, many parents have expressed that they will not continue pursuing Axson based on this new lottery system, because they do not want to have their children begin at one school and then have to change schools and start a traditional system.
Again, we unfortunately have not been part of the decision-making process for this rule change, but it is our understanding that one or more board members had previous concerns about continuity of students trumping access to schools. With that understanding, our SAC discussed the issue again at our most recent meeting and propose to you the following solutions to make Axson accessible to all families:
Proposal One – Have the magnet office provide information on the website or information to applicants that financial assistance is available for Pre-K 3 and 4-year-olds who qualify.
Proposal Two – Axson will assist the District with marketing the Montessori program to Title 1 Students.
Proposal Three – Axson will reserve additional kindergarten seats for Title 1 students to fill. This would allow new students to be introduced to our Montessori community without removing children from the process or upsetting the model with heavy turnover.
Proposal Four – Axson will work closely or directly with Early Learning Coalition (ELC) and other organizations to attract more economically disadvantaged students and provide enrollment and financial assistance to those students.
Proposal Five – Axson will partner with the ELC and other organizations to educate the larger community about Montessori pedagogy and the public schools available.
Proposal Six – Axson will contemplate or consider increasing the Pre-K program by utilizing the additional land behind the school.
Please understand we provide this feedback in hopes to work with the School Board and District to find a mutually agreeable plan to meet the District’s concerns without disrupting and negating the Montessori pedagogy that we are charged with implementing and providing in our community. Maria Montessori also said, “The whole of mankind is one and only one, one race, one class and one society.” We look forward to developing procedures that will allow full and fair access to our entire community, while also maintaining the Montessori process from Pre-K 3 through fifth grade without interruption. Please feel free to contact us and please know that we are willing participants in reaching our common goal if given an opportunity to participate in the process
J. Allen Axson School Advisory Council and Parents