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Bushwick Montessori Set to Open Amid Concerns About $21,000 Tuition

By Gwynne Hogan | September 8, 2017 11:10am
 Education director Becky Simkhai said the school should open next week, if it receives approval from the city, administrators said.
Education director Becky Simkhai said the school should open next week, if it receives approval from the city, administrators said.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

BUSHWICK — A new Montessori day care school slated to open next week on city property dedicated to low-income residents will be charging $21,000 per year — well out of the range of most local parents.

The ground floor of 803 Knickerbocker Ave, an affordable housing complex built by the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, was space designated to be a "community facility," not a pricey private school, area parents claim.

"This school is very expensive and unaffordable to most people in the neighborhood," said Stacie Johnson, 40, an artist and a personal assistant, who considered the school as an option for her 4-year-old daughter before learning about the hefty price tag. 

 Bushwick Montessori, on the ground floor of Knickerbocker Commons, should open next week, if it receives approval from the city, administrators said.
Bushwick Montessori, on the ground floor of Knickerbocker Commons, should open next week, if it receives approval from the city, administrators said.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

"This school is not good for the community," she said. Johnson said she was concerned that it would prove as a magnet to pull wealthy families into "deep Bushwick" with young kids and further the area's gentrification.

The Bushwick Montessori, at the Julie Dent Learning Center, named after the long-time community board chair and educational director at Labor and Industry for Education, the non-profit running the school, will offer pre-care and pre-K.

The school's director of education Becky Simkhai, said that once the school is up and running, they're hoping that half of their students will be from low income families on childcare vouchers to defray most of the cost of their tuition.

As of this week, they have around 25 families who plan to send their tots to the new school, most of which are paying full tuition to go to the pre-K program, Simkhai said. Between five and ten families have said they'll enroll using vouchers. They're waiting for a visit from the Health Department to inspect the facility to open, the city confirmed.

"We have a very well-rounded program. We’re not only concerned with academics. We’re equally concerned with the social, emotional growth of the child," Simkhai said, who is heading a school for the first time after being a Montessori teacher in Westchester. "We give children the tools they need to make mistakes. When working towards mastery there's many stages of the process where you're not successful."

They're, "planting the seeds to they can enjoy school and be life long learners,” she said, adding that the school will have yoga and dance instruction and lessons in Spanish and Mandarin.

And while they're offering some financial aid to middle income families, "this may not be a program for middle class parents," she said, reiterating earlier comments to Bushwick Daily.

Several middle income families showed interested, two submitted the necessary paperwork and one family ended up deciding that they could afford the discounted rate, which was about half of the full rate, she said.

When the property was rezoned in 2010 the property's developer, Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, said the ground floor space would be used as a senior center, according to city planning documents. However, the Department of City Planning confirmed that a nursery school is an allowed use in the ground floor of the complex.

Funding for the senior center fell through said Maria Viera, the vice president of community affairs at Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, and they'd earlier been contacted by Julie Dent in hopes of finding a space for the new school. 

"The agreement was that there would be sliding scale fee scheduled and affordable rates for families who couldn't afford the full tuition...so that way no one is left out," Viera said.

She didn't know the specifics of the contractual agreement, and was unsure if the Citizens Council had a way to ensure that the school served different income levels. 

"I want to believe that we’ll be able to gauge and asses standards to ensure that," she said.

A representative of the Citizens Council with further knowledge of the school's contract didn't return a request for further comment immediately.