Eduardo Mata Elementary

Eduardo Mata Elementary

Neighborhood parents with children entering preschool through second-grade should have one more option to consider next fall: Eduardo Mata Elementary on La Vista at East Grand is set to become a pre-kindergarten through second-grade Montessori campus for the 2014-15 school year, primarily serving students in the Woodrow Wilson High School feeder pattern, as long as the Dallas ISD board of trustees doesn’t overturn the plan at the April 24 meeting.

The curriculum change attempts to better utilize the more-than-half-empty campus as well as address overcrowding issues at other nearby elementary schools, such as Lakewood and Stonewall Jackson. Under the plan, Mata would continue adding grades as its students advance, eventually extending all the way to fifth-grade.

DISD’s programs at George Bannerman Dealey Montessori Vanguard and Harry Stone Montessori are so popular that they not only fill up but also yield long waiting lists each year. Both Dealey and Stone are open to students all over DISD; Mata would be different in that it would be a neighborhood Montessori campus. First priority will be given to students who live within Mount Auburn Elementary/Mata boundaries, and then it opens up to students from any of the other Woodrow feeder pattern elementaries: Lakewood, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall and William Lipscomb. Any remaining spots would open to all DISD students.

Unlike Dealey and Stone, a Mata Montessori would not have an interview process. It would have 64 spots for each grade, and if more families than that express interest, they would be put into a lottery.

“Philosophically, if you really study Montessori education, the intent is that Montessori should work for every child,” says Tracie Fraley, executive director for the Woodrow feeder pattern. “We don’t want to create an elitist system where you only get a certain kind of kid. If the program is good, it should work for all kids.”

Mata opened in 1997 to house fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders who would first attend Lipscomb and Mount Auburn elementaries from kindergarten through third-grade. However, the district later changed its junior highs to middle schools, moving sixth-graders from Mata to J.L. Long, and Lipscomb turned into a kindergarten through fifth-grade school in 2009 at the request of parents who didn’t want their children to switch schools in the middle of elementary years. Over the last couple of years, students from Oran M. Roberts Elementary attended Mata while O.M. Roberts’ old campus was torn down and rebuilt. It reopened in fall 2013.

The remaining students at Mata feed in from Mount Auburn, just to the south on East Grand, so currently Mata’s 650-capacity campus has only 226 students enrolled.

Plans to change Mata into a Montessori would simultaneously add fourth- and fifth-grades at Mount Auburn, and Mount Auburn families — some of whom have attended the school for generations — are excited about the opportunity to remain at the school for two more years, Fraley says. Most of them have indicated they would opt to stay at Mount Auburn rather than attend Mata, she says.

These proposals were on the DISD board of trustees’ February agenda but the board never voted on them; instead, Fraley was given administrative authority to move forward with the plans. Though board approval is required for school openings and closings, says DISD Trustee Mike Morath, it isn’t needed for program changes, such as Woodrow or J.L. Long becoming International Baccalaureate schools, and grade configurations changes are a gray area for the board, he says.

However, three trustees — Lew Blackburn, Elizabeth Jones and Bernadette Nutall —  specifically requested to put the Mata/Mount Auburn proposal back on the April 24 agenda rather than leave the decision to  administration, Morath says.

“It’s unclear to me whether that actually does require board approval,” Morath says, adding that the board also will be clarifying its policy on grade configurations at the April meeting.

Another complication politically for Mata and Mount Auburn is that they lie in two different trustee districts — Nutall’s and Miguel Solis‘, respectively — and Long and Woodrow, to which the two elementary schools feed, are in Morath’s district.

“It’s like the Balkans; you’ve got three overlapping political districts,” Morath says.

Though it’s not a done deal, Fraley is moving forward with plans. Forms are now available for parents interested in their children attending Mata next year, with informational meetings scheduled on April 21, 22 and 28.

Fraley notes that this first year would give families the best chance to enter the school since kindergarten through second-grades are wide open, and even preschool spots for 3- and 4-year-olds could be available, if openings are left after DISD serves its state-mandated pre-kindergarten students throughout the district. Parents who live within Mount Auburn’s boundaries need to submit forms by April 30; parents in the overall Woodrow feeder pattern have until May 15. The deadline for DISD parents outside of Woodrow’s boundaries is June 1.

Fraley says the school is shooting for international Montessori certification, which is “a little bit higher standard and more rigorous.” Mata intends to hire Montessori-certified teachers and also offer training this summer. Under Montessori standards, teachers who have gone through one cycle of training are eligible to teach, Fraley says.

Fraley says the district has been planning for this change for three years.

“I know a lot of people are saying, ‘Wow, that’s a really short turnaround,’ but it’s really not in some senses,” Fraley says. “We’ve got everything ready, and now you say go. There’s still time to do this and do it successfully.”

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