My Turn: Marie Drake a good option for Montessori

Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

At noon today in the downtown fire hall, the Juneau School District Facilities Committee will be considering four possible options for placement of the Montessori program. There is only one option that keeps the program intact and does not require the relocation of students currently attending neighborhood elementary schools - the fourth option recently presented by the Juneau School District.

This option places the Montessori elementary classrooms in the shop area of Marie Drake for the 2008-09 school year, sharing the Marie Drake building with Harborview students while Harborview undergoes a yearlong renovation.

In the 2009-10 school year, the Montessori adolescent students (seventh and eighth grades) would join the Montessori elementary students at Marie Drake. Marie Drake would ultimately be the home of 120-plus Montessori students and 140 Yaakoosge students.

There are several important facts that should be known about the district Montessori program and this fourth option.

• The Juneau School District Montessori program is a public school program and is open to children throughout the district. There is no tuition, and openings are filled by lottery. The lottery process is available for viewing on the district's Web site. Preference in the lottery is given to students who are low income, low achieving, qualifying for special education, or are English-language learners.

• The shop area of Marie Drake is not scheduled to be used by Harborview during the renovations; no Harborview students will be displaced by this proposal.

• Per the district's allocation methods, the Montessori classrooms will bring with them a half-time specialist (for example, a librarian, music teacher or physical education teacher), and approximately a quarter-time to half-time classified position (for example, an aide or office person). This additional staff will offset much of the impact of the Montessori classrooms on Harborview.

• The Juneau School District administration has suggested that Juneau-Douglas High School buses would be available for Montessori students, an innovative idea which removes the largest barrier to alternative programs without adding costs to the district.

• The Montessori program would begin at 7:45 a.m., a full 1½ hours before Harborview. This schedule minimizes the often difficult task of scheduling the use of the gym, library and other facilities used by both Montessori and mainstream classrooms.

• There is the potential of having Yaakoosge and Montessori become a single school within the district. Because of the school funding formula, creating this new school would result in a significant increase in state funding to the district, while not significantly increasing expenses. This increased funding will benefit all children in the district, not just students attending Montessori or Yaakoosge.

Thus far, the dialogue regarding the district's Montessori program and its location has been largely thoughtful and respectful. Brainstorming by many different people has enabled the district to come up with this proposal.

The Montessori program, district administrators and neighborhood schools all share the goals of minimizing the impact of the Montessori program on other schools and reducing the barriers that limit access to the Montessori program. The Marie Drake proposal accomplishes these goals while having the potential to bring additional state funding to the district as a whole.

• Stephanie Allison is a Glacier Valley Site Council member and Montessori parent.

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