Angela Macias describes herself as “overly prepared” when it comes to the schooling of her oldest son, who enters kindergarten next year. Private school was an option, but she prefers public, and after researching and doing what she calls “drive-bys” at half a dozen Dallas ISD elementary schools over the last few months, Macias says she is “pretty much set on” Mata Montessori, which relaunched this past fall as a DISD school of choice.
Late last spring, after DISD trustees decided not to put a stop to the school’s conversion, Mata had 368 spots to fill, and the administration swung open the doors to any and all Dallas ISD families who wished to attend. The school, which next year will range from pre-kindergarten through third-grade, does not have any admission requirements, unlike fellow Dallas ISD Montessori schools Dealey and Harry Stone. Enrollment at Mata is elective. Parents simply need to show up at one of two information sessions this month (tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 7, or Wednesday, Jan. 28, both at 6 p.m.) to pick up an interest form and then turn it in. If the school winds up with more interest forms than spots available, it turns to a lottery process that gives priority to families living within the Mount Auburn Elementary boundaries and then to the rest of the Woodrow Wilson High School feeder pattern.
No lottery was needed last year. This coming year, however, is looking to be a different story. The school is anticipating 128 open spots across grade levels. The families with children currently attending Mata seem happy with their choice, so most are sticking around, and some are even sending siblings next fall. (Mata, like most magnet schools in DISD, practices sibling preference. And full disclosure: My daughter is a Mata kindergartner.)
“People are ecstatic,” says PTA president Amy Hickox. “There’s something tangible when you walk into that school. You feel uplifted. There’s an effervescence of happiness and buy-in and can-do attitude.”
Macias felt that, too, when she visited Mata. She taught at DISD’s Thomas Jefferson High School for five years and says “you can judge a school based on how happy the students and teachers are.” So she’s hoping to snag one of Mata’s 49 projected available slots for kindergartners. She lives in Oak Cliff, however, placing her in “tier 3” — DISD families outside of the Woodrow feeder pattern — which she thinks could end up being a long shot. So to increase her son’s chances, his father just signed a lease on an apartment within Mount Auburn’s boundaries.
Perhaps this is a drastic measure for a school that has only four months to show for itself and may end up with space enough for everyone who wants in. But Macias isn’t willing to risk it. Her goal is to move to the neighborhood, but she can’t make that happen in time for Mata’s admission process.
And she really, really wants her son to attend Mata.
“It’s the possibility of being in a dual-language program and being around a diverse population and the aspects of Montessori I really like — to choose your work and choose where you do your work,” she says. “This works for young children because, who wants to sit in a desk all day?”
Mata Montessori is the first of DISD’s schools of choice, and the district is planning to open 35 more by 2020. Thousands of people have taken DISD’s survey asking parents and community members what kinds of schools they want, and it’s not too late to weigh in. According to the DMN, results so far show that the top three requests are Advanced Placement schools, International Baccalaureate (IB) schools and early college schools.
Both Woodrow and J.L. Long Middle School, which feeds into it, already are IB schools, and two of the feeder pattern’s elementary schools, Robert E. Lee and Lipscomb, are well on their way to that status. Woodrow executive director Tracie Fraley, who was a champion of Mata’s conversion and an advocate of giving parents more choices in their children’s education, says Lee and Lipscomb will apply this month to become two more of DISD’s schools of choice, and will submit their applications with the International Baccalaureate Association in April.
Fraley told us last spring that she hopes that neighborhood families eventually will be able to take advantage of “a free-flow within schools, so at some point you as a community member or parent can say, ‘Gosh, I really want my kid to participate in IB,’ or ‘I want to be down the street from my elementary school because that community school is really important to me.’ ”
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