On Tuesday, the Vineyard Montessori School (VMS) welcomed top state education officials for a tour of the school during a visit that highlighted the need for expanded early childhood education.
While the school helps fill only a portion of the need for early education, school officials say they are increasing their capacity by about 50 percent within the next couple of years.
Early Education and Care (EEC) Commissioner Amy Kershaw, EEC Legislative Director Addison Koelle, and EEC Director of Childcare Financial Assistance Bethanie Glass were among the dignitaries during Tuesday’s visit.
Head of School Debbie Jernegan led the state delegates on a tour of the campus, which serves toddlers through eighth graders.
Jernegan reported that before COVID, a study found that 87 percent of families with toddlers on the Island lacked access to toddler care. Prior to 2021, the Montessori school had 40 spaces for preschoolers. In 2021, the school added 19 preschool spaces and 18 toddler spaces, expanding to a total of 79 early-childhood spaces.
But still, the current wait list for the Montessori school’s early-childhood care is more than 130 children. Additionally, the school hosts over 80 children at its summer camp.
“We open to current families in December, and by March are full for the summer, having to turn away a huge wait pool of children,” Jernegan said. “As you know, we are a seasonal community, and our largest need for care is the summer.”
VMS is currently working toward an expanded preschool program. In the fall, VMS plans to break ground on four preschool classrooms, completing construction by summer 2024.
The school anticipates that by 2025, early childhood capacity will be increased by 52 percent.
Amy Kershaw said that she wants to ensure that the relationship between the Department of Early Education and Care and VMS “becomes a partnership.”
“One of the wonderful things about early childhood is there are a lot of differences in the pedagogy,” Kershaw said. “We want to support that sort of diversity of approaches.”
In addition to the expanded preschool program, VMS plans to renovate the 100-year-old former preschool building into staff housing, in an effort to attract teachers to the Island. This renovation is slated for fall 2024.