Montclair schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds has announced the 59 winners of the district's free preschool lottery, which involved 220 children whose parents submitted their names. 

Children who will be 3 or 4 on or before Oct. 1 are eligible for the program. There will be 64 students in total enrolled in the free preschool — five students already enrolled in the tuition-based preschool program were automatically enrolled in the new program.

Montclair was one of 27 districts in the state to receive funding in the latest round of Preschool Expansion Aid, according to a Sept. 8 press release from the Education Department

The township received $970,555 and was one of three Essex County districts to receive money — Nutley received $1,228,170 and West Orange $1,894,569. 

The district streamed the preschool lottery results live on its website Thursday evening, Sept. 22. Before calling out the selected lottery numbers, Ponds thanked the applicants.

“If you're looking to apply for next year, if you happen not to get in, we'll get information out to you in November,” Ponds said. “Please don't give up if you don't get in if you have a 3-year-old. We want to make sure we give universal pre-K to everyone we can.” 

The district will follow up with the entries via email, alerting them if they were selected and of their lottery place, Ponds said. If any of the 59 children and families selected do not want to continue with enrollment, the opening will be offered to the entry pulled 60th, and so on.

Four classrooms will open in district schools on Monday, Oct. 3 — two at the Developmental Learning Center and two at Nishuane Elementary School. In addition, one class will open at the Montclair Community Pre-K and another at the Geyer Family YMCA. 

Montclair Community Pre-K has an enrollment of about 220 students ages 3 to 5. The YMCA has 88 children in its Early Learning Center.

The district’s preschool will run for six hours each day with start and end times dependent on placement locations, the website says. The classrooms will be “inclusive of students with varied abilities, interests, needs and learning styles.”

There are four in-district teachers and two community partner teachers for the program, said David Cantor, executive director of communications and community engagement. The in-district teachers are in place, along with one community partner teacher. The district is “still assisting one community partner to find a teacher” but is nearing a hire, Cantor said. 

Families were not given the option to rank locations, but that may be possible in the future, he said. 

“It wasn’t possible this year given the very short timeline of the state grant,” Cantor said. “With more time to get up and running next year, we may be able to honor parents’ location preferences through a discretionary lottery.”

The district will begin working on next year’s classrooms “immediately” after the Oct. 3 start date, with plans to expand next year and in the future as the grant allows, he said.  

In a Sept. 8 press release, Mayor Sean Spiller said he was “thrilled” about the aid.

“This funding is a culmination of hard work by advocates, and represents a commitment from the Murphy administration to invest in our next generation,” Spiller said. “Providing early childhood education is one of the most meaningful steps we can take to ensure the very best start for our youngest learners.”

In September 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state would commit to providing universal pre-K to all families across the state over the next several years. At the time, he  announced 19 districts across 11 counties would split $17.5 million in funding to start or expand existing preschool programs. 

Murphy said the process to institute universal pre-K would begin with a “strategic plan” created over the next year that would set a path to full-day preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds by the end of the decade, according to reporting by NJ Spotlight News

“It would be 2030 the latest,” he said. “I hope sooner than that … Resources will be what we need to get our arms around.”