School Board takes look at proposal for Montessori move

Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The entire Juneau School Board on Tuesday had its first look at a plan to house the district's Montessori program at the Marie Drake building next school year.

Under the plan, the Montessori program would share the Marie Drake building with students and staff from Harborview Elementary School, who were scheduled to use the Marie Drake building next year while their school was renovated. The Marie Drake building sits next to Harborview Elementary.

Members of Harborview's staff and concerned parents have said there would not be enough room in the Marie Drake building to house all of Harborview's programs, including one for children with special needs, with the Montessori program. They said they also are concerned that having another alternative program located downtown would siphon off students from Harborview's traditional program.

At the School Board meeting, staff and parents expressed those same concerns and asked the School Board to not put the needs of the Montessori program over those of the rest of the district. Educators and parents opposed earlier proposals to house the Montessori program in one location in the Mendenhall Valley - where the program has been housed at two separate schools.

"There are a lot of eyes and hearts in Juneau watching to see whether the long-entrenched education tradition continues that the needs of a few are placed over the needs of many," said Fred Hiltner, a first-grade teacher at Harborview.

The Montessori program, which emphasizes self-directed learning, has about 100 students in first through eighth grade. It also has a 14-year history of bouncing around the district. The plan would phase in Montessori's move to the Marie Drake over two school years, with middle school students joining their elementary school counterparts the second year.

A newly floated proposal by School Board member Mark Choate to house the entire Montessori at the new high school in the valley next year was criticized by some other School Board members because it hadn't been properly vetted by the public.

Montessori teacher and program manager Chris Trostel said her program's bottom- line need was to be placed in one school. She said she was happy to reach out to the Harborview community or anyone else in the district to overcome "the gaping yaw" in difference of opinion about the merits of the Montessori program.

The School Board is scheduled to make its final decision on April 1 about whether to house the Montessori program at Marie Drake next year.

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