The world of early childhood education is cutthroat. There are only so many hyper-concerned parents willing to shell out public college tuition for their 3-year-olds to get the type of preschool education that will propel them into the Ivy League. Used to be, you could slap the name "Montessori" on the door and let the kids run wild and well-to-do parents would be shoveling you cash. But the market's adjusted, and there are more schools angling for the same group of kids.
In Flower Mound at least, that's sparked a turf war. Yesterday in Dallas County, Wonderland Montessori Academy in Flower Mound filed suit against Rockbrook Montessori Academy, located a mile-and-a-half away, for using "underhanded methods" to poach teachers and students to the rival school. Like:
On at least one occasion, a Rockbrook employee called Wonderland posing as a doctor's office in order to speak with a Wonderland teacher. On another occasion, Rockbrook's owner, Vineeta Bhargava, visited the home of a Wonderland teacher uninvited in order to try to convince the teacher to join Rockbrook.
The dispute seems to have come to a head in May when Wonderland teacher Radhika Soni notified the school that she was leaving. Wonderland director Heather Cole asked point blank if she was leaving for Rockbrook, but Soni insisted she was leaving for Castle Creek, a Flower Mound preschool.
Two days before her last day at Wonderland, the school's owner, Sanjay Johsi, learned that Soni was secretly approaching parents and offering them "financial incentives" to join her at Rockbrook and encouraging them to stop paying Wonderland tuition. This was all tacitly endorsed by Rockbrook which, according to the lawsuit, had offered Soni an additional $2 per hour on her $14-per-hour base pay if she could recruit more students.
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When I called yesterday, Rockbrook owner Vineeta Bhargava declined to comment on the suit. Five minutes later, she called me back. Rockbrook coexists peacefully with a host of private schools much nearer than Wonderland, she told me, and does not try to steal their students. If parents decide Rockbrook's offers a superior education, that's their decision. "This is America," she told me. "You are free to take your child" to whatever school you choose. "This is not a third-world country where you have Mafia and bribes. This is America."
I sent her a copy of the lawsuit, which she had not yet seen, and she promised to have her husband call me with any additional response. As we were about to hang up, I mentioned in passing that I have a 3-year-old. She asked if I lived in Flower Mound and if I had ever considered Montessori.