Bezos Academy will open a free preschool this fall at the Kent Valley Early Learning Center, 317 Fourth Ave. S. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Bezos Academy will open a free preschool this fall at the Kent Valley Early Learning Center, 317 Fourth Ave. S. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Bezos Academy plans fall opening in Kent of free preschool

100 spots for children ages 3 to 5 already filled; waiting list started

It took two years longer than initially planned, but Bezos Academy plans to open a free, nonprofit preschool for children of low-income families this fall in Kent.

In fact, the 100 spots for children ages 3 to 5 are filled and a waiting list has been started, according to a June 3 email from Bezos Academy spokesperson Allison Leader. The application deadline was in May. The school will open Sept. 24.

The school will be known as the Bezos Academy Kent Valley. It will operate out of five classrooms at the Kent School District’s Kent Valley Early Learning Center, 317 Fourth Ave. S., across from City Hall. The Kent School Board, on a 3-2 vote, and Bezos Academy agreed in 2022 on a 10-year lease with the academy paying $1 a month.

The academy, as a nonprofit serving low-income families, looks for community partners to basically provide free rent as it covers costs to staff the school and maintain it.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and founder of the Kent-based Blue Origin aerospace company, is paying for the Montessori-inspired preschools and opened his first location in 2020 in Des Moines. Leader said there are now 19 preschools across Washington, Florida and Texas with more than 1,000 students.

“We have plans in place to open more than 20 additional schools across these states, as well as in Kentucky, Arizona and Hawaii,” Leader said.

The Montessori approach allows every child to develop naturally — to learn and grow at their own pace, according to the Bezos Academy website.

Leader explained why the academy seeks a partner to provide free rent.

“We operate preschools in under-resourced communities where we have identified a critical need,” Leader said. “Our approach is to partner with local host partners who share our vision and long-term commitment to early childhood education, and who understand the needs of their community.

“The spaces that we renovate are generally unutilized, or underutilized, for their current needs. By starting with existing structures and close-knit partners, we can often move more quickly toward opening our doors.

“While our host partners provide the space, we work together to renovate it into a safe, warm, welcoming preschool environment. We then furnish it with everything required to open a new Montessori-inspired preschool and cover the cost of operating a tuition-free, year-round, full-day preschool for families, including three meals a day and snacks.”

The academy will operate 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

When asked how much the academy is spending on renovations of the Kent building, Leader declined to provide the costs.

“I’m not able to share a specific number, but can confirm we’re covering the cost of the renovations,” Leader said.

A Kent School District spokesperson said in an email that Bezos Academy is working on improvements to the facility.

“Bezos Academy is working to completely renovate the space and transform it into a safe, warm and welcoming preschool that meets all state and local early childhood licensing requirements,” according to the spokesperson. “This includes furnishing the space with everything needed for Montessori programs, and an outdoor space where the children can play.”

A district spokesperson didn’t have an estimate of the renovation costs.

“Bezos Academy is covering the cost of the renovations, the district is not paying for it,” according to the spokesperson. “The district will be responsible for the maintenance of the building’s sprinkler system moving forward.”

Leader said it was requirements by the fire marshal that triggered a delay in opening the school, as Bezos Academy initially planned a fall 2o22 start date.

“As we moved the project forward, additional guidance was provided by the state fire marshal that required some unanticipated changes,” Leader said. “We’ll never compromise on compliance or safety and worked as efficiently as possible to complete these updates.”

The academy will have 23 staff members, Leader said, including a head of school and assistant head of school, five lead teachers and 13 assistant teachers.

A recent career posting for a lead teacher at its Federal Way location listed a salary range of $68,000 to $109,000, with the upper third of the salary range for existing employees who demonstrate strong performance over time. The starting salary will vary by qualifications and prior experience.

As far as students getting selected for the academy, Bezos Academy admits new students through a random lottery drawing. Preference in lotteries is given to income eligible children who are experiencing homelessness or living in foster care, siblings of Bezos Academy students, children of Bezos Academy employees, and students transferring from another Bezos Academy location, according to the academy website.

Those who apply after the lottery date, their child will either receive a seat or be be put on a waitlist.

The Kent School District looks forward to having the new preschool.

“Bezos Academy understands the critical need that families in Kent are facing when it comes to affordable early childhood education,” according to a district spokesperson. “Families will have access to tuition-free, year-round, full-day preschool - with highly trained educators who are focused on each child’s individual development.”

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