Our View: Success out of struggle

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Editorial Board, September 2008

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— A push by some parents to expand Montessori in the Steamboat Springs School District is a reflection of the growth of a successful program, but school officials must consider what's best for all students and families before determining whether the wants of a few should be met.

The district's Montessori program has been a success born out of a years-long struggle between a group of local parents and the school district. The history of the program is worth recounting.

A group of parents calling itself Steamboat Springs Montessori proposed a Montessori strand for the public school system in 2001, but neither side was willing to make the concessions needed for an agreement. The Montessori group then submitted a charter school application, as permitted under state law. Although the State Board of Education twice approved the application, a former School Board refused to obey the decision, declaring it an "unfunded mandate" from the state.

Steamboat Springs Montessori filed a lawsuit against the district. Shortly before the case went to trial, the two sides reached an agreement. The three-year deal called for a Montessori strand program to be housed at Strawberry Park Elementary School but open to students throughout the district. In addition to enrollment requirements, the agreement precluded Steamboat Springs Montessori from filing another suit or from forming a parent-teacher group that could be divisive within the school. The agreement expired two years ago.

The first Montessori class began at Strawberry Park in fall 2004. One year later, there was enough student interest for the district to begin a second class, this one for upper-elementary students. There have been two Montessori classes since, but the past few years have seen growing interest from local families. Montessori supporters believe there's sufficient interest to start another class - or more - but the district is resisting such a move because of space and financial concerns.

We're sympathetic to both.

The start-up cost for a Montessori class is about $35,000, which includes classroom materials, furniture and teacher training. But expanding the program isn't as easy as purchasing materials and training a teacher. Montessori classes include an even mix of students at different grade levels. For example, a lower-elementary Montessori class comprises first-, second- and third-graders. Just because there are 20 students on the waiting list for the Montessori program doesn't mean the numbers work out so that an additional Montessori class means a traditional elementary classroom can be eliminated.

Classroom space also is limited, even with the expansion of Strawberry Park and the construction of the new Soda Creek Elementary School. The district's move to full-day kindergarten this year partly is responsible for reducing available space, but it's a program occupied by more students than the Montessori program.

The school district's Montessori strand has been a genuine success - families enrolled in the program love it, parents say the test scores are equal to or better than the scores of the students' peers in traditional classrooms, and it has provided an alternative educational method for students with different learning styles.

As district officials and Montessori supporters discuss the future of the program, our hope is that it can be done in a manner that avoids the turbulence of a few years ago, and keeps in mind the needs of all Steamboat Springs School District students.

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