Mark Javier, in the foreground, a partner in the school, shows off the rear of the new Montessori Foundations of Chicago building during their open house in October 2019.

Montessori School Settles Into New McKinley Park Home, Advocates for Funding Fix

Published November 13, 2019

Montesssori Foundations of Chicago has moved into its new home in the McKinley Park neighborhood, expanding its curriculum and scope of student services, and settling into a permanent location for the school. Located at 2239 W. 35th St., Chicago, the new facility updates the abandoned, former Titan Ornamental Ironworks property with a complete gut rehabilitation and expansion of the building and grounds.

"It was important that the school remain in the community," said Principal Beata Skorusa. "McKinley Park reflects a lot of our school values, including diversity: not only racial, but ethnic and socio-economic."

Montessori Foundations of Chicago Principal Beata Skoursa Sen Tony Munoz 2019101Montessori Foundations of Chicago Principal Beata Skoursa leads Illinois 1st District State Senator Antonio "Tony" Muñoz on a tour of the school.The school relocated from its previous home in a rented storefront space a block away at South Archer Avenue and South Leavitt Street. "We wanted to expand to serve our community better," Skorusa said. "Plus, we just outgrew our old space."

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The new school building features more classrooms for elementary students and an expansion of the birth-through-three facilities for the youngest babies and children. Each classroom has its own bathroom and is equipped with functioning, child-sized kitchens. The toddler and infant classrooms open to their own play gardens.

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A large, nature-based playground — including chicken coop — are under construction at the back of the property, and the building also includes a parent resource area, a staff planning room and a conference room.

Montessori Education from Birth

Skorusa said a number of elements make Montessori Foundations of Chicago unique, especially their focus on affordability. "As far as I know, we’re the only private, high-fidelity Montessori school in the city with a mission to serve a mixed socio-economic population," Skorusa said.

Caring for and engaging the youngest children — including tiny babies — with Montessori methods is another unique element of the school, Skorusa said, as well as providing an ongoing path to a Montessori-based elementary education. "Parents who wanted to continue with the Montessori philosophy into elementary school didn’t have many affordable options," she said.

This philosophy led the school to expand their facilities to support even more of the youngest kids, Skorusa said, even though this is not profitable for the private school.

"As with most other early childhood programs, we operate birth through three on very slim profit margins," she said. "We do it because it is a much-needed service that we provide to our families and our community."

Funding Changes Imperil Early Childhood Care

Montessori Foundations of Chicago Open House 20191013 diningMontessori Foundations of Chicago Principal Beata Skorusa, third from left, enjoys the school's open house in October 2019 alongside families and Illinois 2nd District State Representative Theresa Mah.This provision of early childhood care services has been thrown into disarray at Montessori Foundations of Chicago and many other local providers, Skorusa said, due to changes in early child care funding such as the Preschool for All grant that the school used to receive. Skorusa said the "unintended consequences" of Chicago's funding to support universal preschool had already resulted in losses of early childcare services.

The most recent example is the shuttering by Catholic Charities of nearly 1,000 early childcare spots, Skorusa said in an advocacy letter to Illinois 1st District State Senator Antonio "Tony" Muñoz. "When public preschool crowds out the market for private tuition preschool, providers can no longer cross-subsidize the cost-intensive care of infants and toddlers, leading to fewer slots and higher prices," Skorusa wrote.

This advocacy has joined other outreach by Montessori Foundations of Chicago, including to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou, as well as working with the group Child Care Advocates United (CCAU), which includes other local providers of early childhood care.

Skorusa pointed at the recent article "'Something has gone wrong': Providers sound alarm over Chicago's $200 million award for early learning" published on Chalkbeat as a good overview of the current funding crisis facing Chicago's early childhood care providers.

Full Enrollment

The Montessori Foundations of Chicago school currently enjoys full enrollment, even with the expansion, Skorusa said. However, any interested family is still encouraged to apply.

"We don't enroll on a first-come, first-served basis," Skorusa said. "Rather we follow a list of priorities." The school's website, including its admissions policy page, provides information about signing up and enrollment priorities, including its rolling admissions process and year-round instruction.

Skorusa invited interested families to join an info session or a scheduled tour of the school, especially those who are not familiar with the Montessori method.

"Montessori is so very different from traditional education," she said. "We don’t just prepare children for a test or the next grade: We prepare children so that they are confident and independent. We prepare them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers."

Montessori Foundations of Chicago kids in classroom 2019101Kids engage with self-directed learning activities in one of the new classrooms at Montessori Foundations of Chicago.

Ed. Note: Montessori Foundations of Chicago is in the Sponsorship Program of the McKinley Park News, which ensconces the independence of reporting, editorial decision-making and news content from Sponsor interests as stated in our Editorial Standards and Policies and Sponsorship Agreement.

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