Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School District will consider using some Montessori educational methods in the local elementary schools in response to a group advocating Montessori as a public education alternative in the district.
The group the Steamboat Springs Montessori Steering Committee has indicated it will pursue a charter school if it cannot reach an agreement with the school district on how best to incorporate Montessori into the public schools.
The steering committee has been working on public Montessori for more than eight months and has held several community meetings. Members said 70 families representing 100 children have expressed interest in public Montessori.
Last week, the school district proposed reviewing Montessori and incorporating the "best practices" of the education method into the curricula at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools.
The district's proposal "was the result of months of work and examination and a lot of planning and discussion," said Kelly Stanford, director of content standards for the school district. "The proposal is what we believe is best."
Though the Montessori Steering Committee reviewed the district's two-page proposal at a meeting Thursday night, members of the group said they would not respond to the proposal until after the group has a chance to meet again with the school district.
"We really appreciate the time and effort they put into the proposal, but we're not ready to make a decision yet," said Carrie Requist, one of the 12 members of the steering committee.
Montessori is an educational method developed a century ago by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian educator. Montessori utilizes multi-age classrooms and emphasizes independent decision-making by students, allowing them to help guide their own education.
John DeVincentis, principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School, said the district's proposal is the appropriate way to incorporate Montessori methods.
"The best practices model is something we have been using in our school to always improve what we are doing," DeVincentis said. "We would certainly be willing to see what practices they have to make our school better."
But the district's proposal falls far short of the options the steering committee sought in its meetings with the district. Those options included:
n A strand or separate classroom for Montessori students and teachers.
n A Montessori focus school that would share the same school facilities.
n Or a charter school that operates independently and is accountable to the board of education.
Superintendent Cyndy Simms said administrators feared creating separate classrooms for Montessori instruction would be disruptive to the unity between the teachers and students at the schools.
DeVincentis said a Montessori strand could create division.
"(Public schools with Montessori) function well, but separately," he said.
"We don't want that separation. We're trying to build a sense of community."
In its proposal, the school district said several Montessori practices are already utilized by the elementary schools including differentiated instruction, practical life applications, student-directed learning, flexible grouping, integrated studies, place-based activities, field trips and site visits, assemblies, use of community resources, lessons on virtues, uninterrupted scheduled blocks of learning time and multi-age activities when appropriate.
DeVincentis noted recent Colorado Student Assessment Program test scores indicate the methods already in place at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park are working.
"With our kids doing so well academically, I don't know why we would want to put a whole new program in," DeVincentis said.
Steering committee member David Patterson said after reviewing the proposal from the school district, the committee is still considering its options.
Simms said regardless of the route the steering committees chooses, residents should remain open minded to different perspectives on educating children.
"We all have to live in the same community," she said.
She said the process of working with the Montessori Steering Committee has been beneficial for the school district by forcing it to examine another methodology and consider ways that system can help education in the district.