What does “high ratio” mean?
Parents at our coffee on Monday had questions about our program moving to “high ratio” inside the classrooms. It was suggested by Ali Ronder, a respected alternative education leader in the Austin community and one of the ICARE representatives present at our talk (JG’s accreditation with ICARE is currently pending), that we should first define what “high ratio” means from a broader context. 15 children aged 3 to 6 years to one adult and 1 adult to every 5/6 toddlers — our plans for the 2019/2020 school year — is considered well within the norm of childcare ratios in Texas. So, although our ratios are projected to be higher than they are now (currently 10 to 1 in primary and 4 to 1 in toddler) it is more accurate to refer to the move as being to larger classroom sizes than to high ratio.
When speaking in the context of a primary Montessori program specifically, 30 children with a seasoned Guide and an assistant is common. The classroom functions best when there is a balanced population of children with 6-12 representatives at each age/level. In a smaller classroom, there is less modeling from older children so the younger students rely more on the teacher’s instruction, or default to younger child modeling, which can hinder functional independence and refinement of other soft skills that are a large and important part of the Montessori curriculum. A handout explaining the value of a large classroom experience and why it works was provided at the information session on Monday.
“But I thought JG was all about low ratios. Why the change, Katherine?”
Up to now, Julia’s Garden has blossomed by following the evolution of properties acquired and by serving a need within the community. From this very fluid growth emerged 4 small, young classrooms with 4 trained Montessori guides and 4 assistants (8 teachers total serving 47 children, a very low 6 to 1 ratio, not including support guides). Now that our student body has aged, we are purposefully relocating the children, the environments and the staff so that all can serve and be served optimally. A normalized group of of 3, 4 and 5 year old children who have previously attended our program do not need the support that they did when they first began. They are ready for a greater challenge and greater socialization opportunities; they deserve this time to show us what they are capable of. By placing too many adults in a community we risk doing them a disservice.
Our youngest community members are growing, too, and by fall semester will be ready to show their younger friends the ropes. A 12-14 member toddler environment with elder, returning members offers more balance and stability than a new classroom does.
The merging of classrooms will also allow our staffing resources to be put to better use. Placing more than one talented, trained guide in front a of population that only requires one, especially when other departments are lacking, does not serve the greater good of the school.
“What is an ‘education specialist’ and what will her role be?”
The education specialist plays a key role in accountability next year. The addition of this department allows us to ensure without fault that each child enrolled is being looked after both socially and academically every step of the way.
The specialist will make preliminary assessments as needed and hold parent conferences to make behavior and learning plans. She will float both on schedule and as needed between classes, offering tutoring, therapy, gross and fine motor enhancement — anyone who requires support, her job will be to make sure it is provided. She will also serve as our school’s parent liaison and plan parent education sessions, advocating for the essential need of the parent-teacher partnership which best supports student successes at school.
“Why can’t we know who our child’s teacher is going to be next year before we enroll?”
This was another question that came up for parents. Ali Ronder explained during our talk that the process a school undergoes to assign children to classrooms — be it public or private -- is quite similar: first, the parents are asked to provide a deposit in February which will allow for admissions to know which families are planning to return. From there, the school can look to their wait list fill spots, allowing incoming families to plan. As classrooms are beginning to take shape, contracts and/or letters of intent are accepted from the teaching staff, letting administration know their situation for the upcoming semester (aka, “I am planning to return but we are growing our family over summer and need maternity leave; or “I would love to come back but in a different role” etc). From there, negotiations are made, meetings held and interviews are conducted to fill any spots that may be open. This process is completed no earlier than May. As a result, parents do not typically know their child’s class assignment until the summer months. It would be unfair, Ali noted, for some parents to know their child’s class assignment in advance and others not. This system of notification would inevitably cause controversy within a community. In short, the process all begins with a parent commitment.
“When will we know the prices and program offerings for next year?”
Prices and programs are on the enrollment forms located on the Parent Portal. Prices are also publicly posted on our website under Tuition & Pricing. Current prices can always be found on our website and are updated the spring semester prior to the start of the new school year.
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