2nd Montessori class unlikely

Upper-elementary teacher position declined by three candidates

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It is unlikely that the Steamboat Springs School District will have an upper-elementary Montessori teacher for the coming school year.

The position was offered to three candidates, but all declined for various reasons, Superintendent Donna Howell said.

The training for upper-elementary Montessori already has begun, so at this point, the school district would have to find a teacher with lower- and upper-elementary training for the program to happen, Howell said. Finding such a teacher is unlikely.

"We've got to start moving in the next direction, at least tentatively," Howell said.

That direction means not being able to accommodate some students who enrolled in Montessori, re-evaluating student counts in traditional classrooms and possibly hiring another traditional teacher.

Some people involved in the process say the district would have been able to fill the position if it had been advertised earlier. Howell said district officials thought advertising in March would be early enough, but that they have learned from this experience and would advertise earlier next time.

Without an upper-elementary class, seven out-of-district first- and second-graders, including one in-district student who has been home-schooled, will not be able to participate in the Montessori program. Also, all nine fourth-graders and eight fifth-graders who enrolled will not be able to participate, Howell said.

Of those students, five fifth-graders will be enrolled in traditional classes at Strawberry Park Elementary School, where parents already have complained about class sizes of 23 or 24 students for that grade.

All third-graders enrolled in the Montessori program will participate, and there will be one class for first- through third-graders that will have no more than 28 students.

Howell and the district's two elementary school principals will start looking at enrollment numbers in the coming days to determine how best to funnel those children back to traditional classrooms.

Because a second Montessori teacher has not been hired, the district could advertise for and possibly hire a traditional teacher. If a qualified Montessori teacher is found before a traditional teacher is hired, the upper-elementary class still could be offered, Howell said.

The chances of finding someone this late in the summer are very slim, Howell and Jody Patten said. Patten is the former president of Steamboat Springs Montessori. That nonprofit originally was formed to create a Montessori charter school.

Patten said although she and district staff worked tirelessly to find a teacher, she thinks the district began to search for a candidate too late.

She has talked with several certified teachers who said they would have applied if they had known about the job in February.

"I feel like it's just a shame because we have 25 families that made that leap of faith" to commit to the Montessori method of learning," Patten said. "It doesn't look like we're going to be able to offer them a program."

John DeVincentis, retired principal of Strawberry Park Elementary School, said he wanted to begin advertising in January.

To that, Howell said,"I think we put an honest effort into recruiting and finding someone. It didn't work.

"We're disappointed that we haven't been able to find a teacher," Howell said. "We really wanted to see the program expand.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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