Committee recommends Marie Drake for Montessori

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Most members of the Juneau School Board's Facilities Committee said Monday that the school district's entire Montessori program should be housed in the Marie Drake building next school year.

Two School Board members said placing the program at Marie Drake, which it will share with Harborview Elementary School next year while that school is renovated, would be the least disruptive course of action.

A third board member, Mark Choate, said the Harborview community was strongly opposed to the move and suggested the Montessori program be housed at Thunder Mountain, the new high school set to open next school year in the Mendenhall Valley.

The entire School Board, which will have the ultimate say where Montessori is housed, was scheduled to discuss the issue at its meeting today.

Members of the Harborview Site Council said there would not be room in the Marie Drake building to house all of the school's current programs along with the entire Montessori program.

But the school's principal, David Stoltenburg, said he was eager to "move forward" and would work to sort out any potential space problems with the Montessori program.

Sean O'Brien and Destiny Sargeant, the two board members who are in favor of putting the Montessori program at Marie Drake, said Stoltenburg should have some authority over the program and there needed to be a safeguard to make sure the Montessori program did not draw too many of its students from the Harborview area.

They also said there needed to be several meetings between interested parties to discuss how the Montessori program would co-exist with Harborview.

The Montessori program, which has bounced around the district for the last 14 years, stresses a smaller learning environment and self-paced teaching. Currently, it is housed at two schools in the Mendenhall Valley. The program's four elementary classes are at Glacier Valley Elementary School, and the two middle school classes are at the Mendenhall River Community School.

The proposed move to Marie Drake would be phased in over two years, with the students from Glacier Valley moving next year, and the middle school classes moving the following year.

O'Brien and Sargeant said it was too late to consider Chaote's new suggestion to house the program at TMHS after the committee spent months considering other, more researched options.

O'Brien said the Marie Drake option, while not perfect, was the best one available.

"I really think for this process this is as good as it's going to get," O'Brien said.

But the proposal could come unglued if the district needs to use the shop class at the Marie Drake building, which the Montessori program plans to use as a classroom.

The district is scrambling to find space for vocational programs after the University of Alaska Southeast said it would no longer allow the high school to teach automotive technology courses in one of its facilities.

Montessori parent and proponent Stephanie Allison said she was pleased with the Marie Drake option but thought Thunder Mountain could turn out to be a viable alternative if the district needed to use the shop class at Marie Drake.

Whatever the district decided to do, Allison said, it needed to make a decision soon so that interested parents could take a look at Montessori.

"It's pretty hard to talk to people about the program when you don't know where you're going to be," Allison said.

• Contact reporter Alan Sudermanat 523-2268 or

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