Steamboat School District to end Montessori level

Enrollment in higher level of alternative education program in decline

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— The Steamboat Springs School District will not offer its upper level Montessori program at Strawberry Park Elementary School next school year because of a drop in the alternative education program’s enrollment, Superintendent Brad Meeks said Sunday.

The upper Montessori program was started in the 2004-05 school year and currently serves about 16 fourth- and fifth-grade students. The district’s lower Montessori classroom, which serves more than 20 first-, second- and third-grade students, will continue next school year.

Meeks said he told upper Montessori parents about the program’s end during a meeting last week.

“The program has served the district well, so it’s not that it’s unsuccessful,” he said Sunday. “We’ve had it in place for eight years now, but as (enrollment) numbers come down and we have finite resources, we have to make decisions as to where we are going to put that staff member” who teaches the upper Montessori classes.

Meeks said the district received 17 applications for the upper Montessori classroom for the 2012-13 school year. The program, which started in the fall with 21 students and dipped down to 16 today, historically has served about 25 students each year. Meeks added the lower level of the program remains popular as 34 parents have applied to place their students in that classroom next school year.

Staff shuffle

The upper Montessori program faced uncertainty at the start of this school year after the unexpected departure of upper Montessori teacher Linda Stansbery, who taught in the program since its inception.

Not able to immediately hire a replacement instructor certified to teach the specialized curriculum named after Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori, the district used a substitute teacher not trained in the Montessori method at the start of the school year. The temporary move concerned a group of parents, who told the Steamboat Springs School Board that they questioned the viability of the program after Stansbery’s departure.

After an extensive search, the district hired a new Montessori trained teacher later in the fall.

Meeks said in the wake of the upper Montessori program’s termination, the teaching position next year will be shifted to another elementary school classroom to help keep class sizes low. The move to end the program was not a cost savings measure, he added.

Parents react

Montessori parent Deidre Saunders said Sunday that the upper Montessori program, which stresses hands-on independent learning, should be saved.

“It was very disappointing. It’s been such a tumultuous year (for the program) given the fact the teacher left at the last moment, and I kind of feel as though they’ve given up,” she said about the school district. “I’m still supportive of the program and want it to succeed.”

Deidre said she currently has a second-grade student in the lower Montessori classroom and a sixth-grade student who graduated from the program.

School Board meeting

The Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night will discuss the cancellation of the upper Montessori program. Meeks said he and the board also will discuss changing the way the district collects tuition for its full day kindergarten program. District officials say the nonpayment of tuition from some parents continues to be a problem after it used a collection agency in the 2009-10 school year to recoup $2,969 in unpaid dues from several families.

Meeks said proposed changes to the current system include having families pay the full tuition up front, or setting up an electronic payment system that can automatically charge a parent monthly. Parents currently can pay the entire full-day tuition before the start of the school year, can pay on a monthly basis or can pay in four quarterly payments of $587.25.

“It’s just not a smooth thing,” Meeks said about the current fee collection system.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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