Jennifer Finnerty, the Montclair school district’s preschool supervisor. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR SCHOOL DISTRICT)
Jennifer Finnerty, the Montclair school district’s preschool supervisor.

The Montclair school district’s free preschool program will double its classes in the 2023-2024 year, and offer transportation and before- and after-care for the students.

Free preschool began in Montclair on Oct. 3. The district received $1,028,392 in state funding for the program for 3- and 4-year-olds as part of the state Department of Education’s Preschool Expansion Aid program. 

The program’s 81 students are currently divided among six classrooms in four different locations — two at the Developmental Learning Center, two at Nishuane School, one at the Montclair Community Pre-K and one at the Geyer Family YMCA. The preschool runs for six hours each day, with start and end times depending on placement locations.

Since the announcement of state funding in October, the district has planned for yearly program expansions. The district plans to offer universal preschool within five years. Universal preschool was defined by the state in 2008 as reaching 90% of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds.

Montclair will receive $2.17 million from the state for preschool in the 2023-2024 year.

During that school year, the program will expand to 12 classrooms — two at the Developmental Learning Center, two at Nishuane School, two at the Montclair Community Pre-K, three at the Geyer Family YMCA, two at the Montclair Child Development Center and one at the Neighborhood Childcare Center.

The anticipated enrollment is 180 students in both general education and special education, according to the Montclair Board of Education’s Feb. 13 curriculum committee meeting notes

A lottery was held on Feb. 21, and families were notified the following day, according to the district website. There were 314 entries, and 65 spots available. Students already registered in the existing preschool program were automatically enrolled for the 2023-24 school year, and spots were reserved for students with demonstrated financial need and students with disabilities.

Certified staff have already been assigned for the 12 classrooms, the curriculum meeting notes say. 

The district will be providing transportation for students who live more than 2 miles from their assigned site, the meeting notes say. There will also be before- and after-care provided at each site, at a cost to families. Transportation will not be available for the before- or after-care. Transportation and before- or after-care are not currently available to the preschool students. 

A preschool instructional coach from Montclair State University is training staff at each of the sites, curriculum committee chair Crystal Hopkins said at a March 1 board meeting. The coach is working to ensure “curriculum is implemented with fidelity as well as help to develop intervention and referral processes,” the curriculum committee meeting notes say.

Through Tools of the Mind, a curriculum training program, the Montclair preschool staff has also been connecting with educators across the country to discuss strategies and to collaborate, the notes say.  

As the district plans for its continued preschool expansion, administrators will lean on an early childhood advisory council, a group of about 20 stakeholders — community members and district staff — to help guide the preschool program. The group, still being finalized, will oversee the program’s growth to meet the 90% universal enrollment, assist in creating support for the transition from preschool to kindergarten and participate in the assessment of needs and resources for the program.

There is also a part-time parent coordinator position that the district is hoping to expand to full time if funds allow, Hopkins said at the March 1 meeting.  

Talia (she/her) is the education reporter for Montclair Local and is always looking for ways to view stories through a solutions journalism lens. She has spent time in newsrooms of all sizes and scopes....