In my years as a student, and later as an educator in high schools and universities, I never witnessed the kind of change that Ke Er International Kindergarten has gone through in the past 12 months. In an ideal world, change in a school should be a good thing, such as improved playground equipment or better security. While Ke Er may be able to brag about improving these things last year, that’s where the positive changes stop and the decline in quality begins.
When we enrolled Reina a year ago, the principal was an experienced Montessori teacher who was driving the curriculum and seeking qualified teachers (certified Montessori-trained teachers are hard to come by in China). We were promised monthly field trips, daily extra curricular activities and a school bus in the near future. Considering the distance we had to commute, the forthcoming bus was a significant factor. But the best thing about the school was Reina’s teacher, Anna. When I mentioned Anna to administrators at other Montessori schools in Beijing, they got glassy-eyed looks on their faces and gushed about how lucky Reina was to be Anna’s student. They clearly wished that Anna worked for them. Case closed, school found: Ke Er was the perfect place for Reina.
Alas, shortly after Reina began classes last spring, the school began its downhill slide. Plans for the bus were delayed and eventually canceled. As classrooms were added and the school began to fill, extracurricular activities were only held every other day and finally once a week. A Chinese administrator with no teaching experience replaced the experienced Canadian principal and, as a consequence, the school’s curriculum lost its pilot. Worst of all, frustrated with the changes, Anna and her assistant teacher decided to leave last summer. Fortunately, Anna’s replacement was a seasoned educator we all liked. Yet, the English teachers in Reina’s class continued to jump ship every few months. For those keeping score, in one year at Ke Er, Reina had two principals, two head teachers, two Chinese assistant teachers and four expat English teachers. The class took only two fieldtrips and the administration never bothered to explain changes or make any apologies for failing to deliver on the terms of their contract.
Call us old fashioned, but we decided enough was enough for an education that no longer appeared Montessori-based yet still retained a premium price tag without the premium services. Fortunately, Venus Kindergarten opened a brand new campus across the street from my wife’s office in Wangjing and a short walk from home. The cost is half as much as Ke Er and the teachers are great. The school also has art classes, lots of other activities, and is part of a proven chain of schools with a number of satisfied parents who Savvy and I know and trust. Best of all, Reina didn’t mind the transition one bit. Why would she? Her first year of school was a constant transition! We held a little "graduation" party for her on her last day at Ke Er and the next day she went to Venus and told Mama, "Everything was great. I had 100 fun!" I’m not sure what that means exactly, but Reina did confide in me that she didn’t eat her vegetables. That’s one thing I hope will change.