Steamboat Springs Without a last-minute boost in enrollment this week, the Steamboat Springs School District's Montessori program will end next school year.
Started in fall 2004, the district's program at Strawberry Park Elementary School once was so popular parents had to hope their child's name was drawn from a lottery to earn a spot in the class. But the program has shrunk in recent years, and the upper-level program that served fourth- and fifth-grade students was cut last school year because of the low numbers.
"It's a mystery in terms of why it has happened," Curriculum Director Marty Lamansky said about the dramatic drop in enrollment. "It's just something we've watched. And today, in these budgetary times, we have to make some tough choices."
District officials in April told parents of students in the program that with only 11 students enrolled for next year, they were considering ending it and moving the students to normal classrooms.
The district set a May 2 deadline for the program to reach a healthy enrollment of about 20 students. As the deadline approaches, parents of the program have been working to recruit more students and promote the program.
"Having this choice is something that in Steamboat we need to try and fight to keep because it's accessible to all families who choose to participate," Montessori parent Kathy Yeiser said.
Yeiser said she wants the opportunity to continue to have her children in a Montessori classroom.
"The environment can make a big difference in how much they buy into education and how much they enjoy learning," Yeiser said. "I love that Montessori is self-directed."
In Shannon Keesee's Montessori classroom on Wednesday, 20 students embarked on individual lessons.
Some wrote in journals while others did lessons on a computer.
"Like the parents, we're just waiting to see what's going to happen next school year," Principal Tracy Stoddard said. "It's hard on everybody."
She said that since the parent meeting, two more students have enrolled.
"You have to keep things equitable in your school," she said. "You can't have a class with 13 students and then another with 22 to 23 students."
The school district's Montessori program has seen some changes in recent years, starting with the unexpected departure last school year of Linda Stansbery, who taught in the program since its inception.
The school district then hired a new certified Montessori teacher, but before her arrival, parents were concerned about the future of the program.
Superintendent Brad Meeks said Tuesday that the recent declines in enrollment were unexpected.
"I was surprised to see the numbers come in so low because they've always had a history of being much stronger," he said.
He added the district looks at more than just the total class size when evaluating the future of the program.
"It's more than just the numbers," he said. "We need to have a balance among the grade levels, so we can have that true multi-age environment this program needs to thrive."
The district originally planned to decide the future of the Montessori program last month but agreed to extend the enrollment deadline at the request of parents.
The district and parents since have advertised for the program.
Stoddard said there is one first-grader, eight second-graders and four third-graders enrolled in the program for next school year.
If the Montessori program is discontinued, it will not result in any savings for the district as it plans to move the teacher to a regular classroom.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com