While owing parents $20K, daycare director intends to open new center under different name

Jeremy Finley reports.
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 7:11 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) -Middle Tennessee parents looking for daycare online could come across a site for Evergreen Montessori and be easily impressed.

Scroll down from the attractive logo of a white house with green trees growing behind it, and you’ll come across a picture of founder Holly Jennings, described as a “long time educator in the community and the founder of Little Tree Schoolhouse.”

But if you Google Little Tree Schoolhouse, Evergreen Montessori comes up at the top of the search.

Iris Nicoletto, who once paid to have her daughter enrolled at Little Tree Schoolhouse, believes there’s a reason not much else shows up online about the first daycare’s troubled past, revealed in court records and testimonies by other parents reviewed by WSMV4 Investigates.

“If you’re a new parent to Nashville, you have no idea,” Nicoletto said.

“I really had my suspicions that something was up.”

Late last year, Nicoletto decided to enroll her child in Little Tree Schoolhouse, primarily for its focus on Montessori learning.

“We’re all just trying to find school for our kids. There are not enough schools,” Nicoletto said.

When a slot opened up, Nicoletto jumped at the chance, paying a $850 deposit.

Before her son started the daycare, he was accepted into another school that Nicoletto felt was a better fit, so she wrote to director Holly Jennings, asking if she could have her deposit back.

“She was really pleasant! She said, ‘I totally understand,’” Nicoletto said.

Will Choppin also had a similar response from Jennings when he decided to pull his daughter before she started the daycare, after learning things about the school that gave him pause.

Choppin paid $3,598 to Little Tree before receiving emails that Little Tree Schoolhouse would be closing and moving to another location.

Choppin then received another email, saying that the new school would be temporarily run as a camp.

“I really had my suspicions that something was up,” Choppin said.

So he emailed Jennings, saying that he intended to pull his daughter because of the changes and asked for his money back.

In emails Choppin shared with WSMV-TV, Jennings responded “I will have your refund to you by the end of the week.”

Email to Will Choppin from Holly Jennings offering refund that he has yet to receive
Email to Will Choppin from Holly Jennings offering refund that he has yet to receive(Will Choppin)

“$3, 598 dollars is a lot of money for us, it’s a lot of money for a lot of parents,” Choppin said.

Rachel Hinson’s son attended the school for three weeks before she learned it was abruptly shutting down.

Court records show she requested Jennings pay her back $1,937, and Hinson provided emails to WSMV4 Investigates that show Jennings responded, “I will get your refund processed this week.

Email to Rachel Hinson from Holly Jennings offering refund that has yet to arrive
Email to Rachel Hinson from Holly Jennings offering refund that has yet to arrive(Rachel Hinson)

A review of court filings show five families sued Jennings in civil court, asking for more than $20,000.

Read the court filings from the families here: David Supica, Iris Nicoletto, Rebecca Shelton, and Sean and Jennifer Duncavage.

In each of the five cases, court records show the families were awarded default judgements, as Jennings never showed up for court.

Choppin, an attorney, filed paperwork with his bank citing fraud, and did receive his money back.

But none of the six families have seen a single payment from Jennings.

“We’re never going to see our money,” Nicoletto said.

That’s when the parents started hearing that Jennings was planning to open another daycare, this time, under a different name.

History of troubled daycare

A review of Little Tree Schoolhouse’s file from the state department of human services shows Jennings received a letter on March 18, 2022, advising her that investigators found she was operating “an unlicensed child care.” ((insert paperwork))

On that same day, emails obtained by WSMV4 Investigates show an email from Jennings to a parent reading, “I am so sorry about today’s interruption of care.”

In that email, Jennings wrote that they were installing a new fire system and the state needed that completed to re-open.

Those emails continue through April 18th, with Jennings apologizing for the continued closured, citing issues with the fire system.

State records show that Jennings was granted a temporary license on April 25 through August 31st at the location of 1108 McKennie Avenue.

A spokeswoman for DHS wrote in an email to WSMV4 Investigates that Jennings told the state she intended to shut Little Tree Schoolhouse on July 27 because of the lease on her building was not renewed.

Same concept, new name

Late in 2022, parents started to hear that despite not paying back the families, Jennings was planning on opening up a new daycare under a different name.

Upon finding the website, WSMV4 Investigates wanted to confirm Jennings’ intention and what she would be telling parents with questions about the new school.

A WSMV4 producer then reached out to Jennings to ask for a tour.

Our producer, who is a mother with children in daycare, identified that she worked for our parent company, Gray Television, and was given a tour by Jennings.

“We actually just got our permit for completing construction,” Jennings said.

Our producer asked what feedback she had received from parents from her prior daycare.

“We’ve had great feedback,” Jennings said.

WSMV4 Investigates then reached Jennings by phone, explaining what our producer had heard during the tour and requesting an interview to discuss it and the civil actions against her.

WSMV4 Investigates then followed up a day later to request an interview and also texted, but Jennings did not respond.

We then called and texted again the following day, to which she did not respond.

WSMV4 Investigates then went to the site of the proposed daycare and knocked on the door.

We then received a text from Jennings.

“I am not interested in speaking and this is private property,” Jennings texted.

“I really want to be able to tell your side of the story,” WSMV4 Investigates texted back.

“Please leave. Thank you,” Jennings texted.

Texts from Holly Jennings to WSMV4 Investigates
Texts from Holly Jennings to WSMV4 Investigates(WSMV)

WSMV4 Investigates asked the state department of human services if the state considered civil actions when allowing a permit for a daycare.

A spokesman for the office did not directly answer the question, but instead directed us to state law that contained no reference to refusing a permit if the director owes back money to parents.

The statute does read that you cannot get a temporary license if the management of the daycare has been cited by the state for violations.

State code about recieving temporary license for daycare
State code about recieving temporary license for daycare(State of Tennessee)

It is unclear if the fact that Jennings was cited for operating an unlicensed childcare will prevent her from obtaining a license.

WSMV4 Investigates has requested any forms that Jennings has supplied to request a temporary permit and are waiting for that to be provided.

The DHS spokeswoman would only say that the state is currently conducting a “pre-licensure process” with Jennings.

WSMV4 Investigates will continue to follow this story to see if Jennings is allowed to operate.

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