Duval School Board Members Figuring Out How To Address Diversity At Montessori School

Jan 25, 2017

Duval County School Board members are figuring out how to ensure diversity at a Jacksonville elementary Montessori school.

J. Allen Axson offers Montessori education for kids as young as age 3. But students who aren’t yet in kindergarten have to pay. When the students are 4 years old, they have free voluntary prekindergarten in Florida, but that only pays for half a school day. J Allen Axson offers a full day of VPK.

That’s brought up concerns there might not be spaces in the kindergarten classes for students who couldn’t pay for preschool classes, said board member Scott Shine.

Board members were considering cutting classes for 3- and 4-year-olds, or holding a lottery for students in kindergarten.

But, after checking with district staff, Shine said those changes might not be necessary.

“One of the main things is that the preschool program — the cost to be in that program — is actually less than a daycare program,” Shine said. “We were concerned about this being equitable for those in low-income groups so we’ve somewhat dealt with or discovered that we really may not have a problem there.”

And, Shine said, Axson — with 13 percent African-American students — is more diverse than nearby Chets Creek Elementary, which is about 8 percent African American.  

Shine said those stats put some concerns to rest, but board members might consider holding some seats for low income students. He said board members will discuss a path forward with the superintendent.

Earlier this month, board members wrestled with how to address the situation. The district isn’t allowed to use general revenue dollars to cover the preschool tuitions of low income students.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said Montessori schools want to start with kids young, so they have consistency.

Board members including Ashley Smith Juarez said even so, access matters.

“I can’t in good conscious say continuity trumps access,” she said.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.