The Steamboat Springs School District's multi-year Montessori pilot program will begin this fall with one class serving 23 students in grades one through three.
The decision followed a program registration extension intended to determine whether there was enough interest to create a second, older Montessori class. It was reached earlier this week during a meeting of Superintendent Donna Howell, Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis, Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Judy Harris and Content Standards Director Kelly Stanford.
Fifteen students who will be in the fourth or fifth grades next year registered for the Montessori program, DeVincentis said. The district didn't consider including sixth-graders, who often are included in a traditional upper-elementary Montessori class, because sixth-graders in Steamboat attend the middle school, not an elementary school.
A total of 28 rising first-, second- and third-graders registered for the program, DeVincentis said. Four rising first-graders and one rising third-grader registered late and were placed on a waiting list for the lone class that will begin in the 2004-05 school year at Strawberry Park.
District officials said repeatedly over the past two months that the implementation of the Montessori program would depend on how many students enrolled for it. Though traditional Montessori classes typically are broken down into lower elementary classes consisting of first-, second- and third-graders and upper elementary classes consisting of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, district officials said the makeup of Steamboat's Montessori classes could differ from traditional ones depending on enrollment breakdowns. Such alternatives could have included a first- and second-grade class and a third- and fourth-grade class.
Stanford said the district decided to offer one class instead of two for several reasons, including that the 23 registered students in grades one through three represented a balanced breakdown of grade levels that corresponded well with the traditional Montessori setup. Enrollment for the class of older students wasn't high enough to create a second class, she said.
"We feel like our best chance to implement a successful program is to go with one class," Stanford said.
The decision to create only one class isn't sitting well with members of Steamboat Springs Montessori.
With 43 registered students in grades one through five, Steamboat Springs Montessori board member Tony Requist thinks the district easily could have created two classes, which would help strengthen the future of the program.
"We're very disappointed," Requist said. "Our understanding is there's plenty of interest to have two classes, and they're turning away half of the interested families. It really violates the spirit of the (settlement) agreement."
He also worries the parents who were turned away this year might not make the emotional commitment to be involved in the program in future years.
Despite his disappointment, Requist said he was pleased some students will be part of the Montessori class.
"I'm glad there's going to be one class, and I hope that's successful," he said.
The district agreed to create a Montessori program in February, seven months after a lawsuit was filed against it by Steamboat Springs Montessori, a group of parents who sought a Montessori charter school for the district. The lawsuit was filed after the school district twice denied the group's charter application and refused to follow a state Board of Education order to approve it.
A settlement agreement between the two sides states that a Montessori program open to all district elementary students will begin this fall, depending on enrollment numbers. A minimum enrollment of 22 students is required for the creation of a Montessori class, the agreement states, though Howell has the authority to waive the enrollment requirement. The agreement forbids Steamboat Springs Montessori from re-filing its lawsuit against the district or bringing forth another charter school application during the life of the three-year pilot program.
DeVincentis said a lot of work is left before the program begins, including hiring a Montessori-trained teacher, configuring the Montessori classroom and determining schoolwide staffing.
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