Montessori expansion reconsidered

Some had expressed concern the program doesn't reflect area's ethnic proportions

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Juneau School District may establish a Montessori classroom this fall at Glacier Valley Elementary, administrators said Tuesday.

Montessori parents had asked for a third Montessori classroom in the district. Harborview Elementary now houses 48 Montessori students in two classrooms in a districtwide program.

Thirty-eight students signed up this spring for a lottery for seven openings in the current program and 24 openings in an expected third classroom.

In Montessori programs, children learn at their own pace, with guidance from adults, in multi-age classrooms stocked with self-teaching materials.

The administration previously had said it wouldn't expand the program, and in June some Juneau School Board members spoke against expansion, although they didn't take a formal vote.

Many board members and a few Harborview teachers and parents had expressed concern that the Montessori program doesn't reflect the district's ethnic and income mix or that it affects the scheduling of regular classes.

But Sorenson and Montessori parents met this month to work out a compromise. The proposed classroom will hold at least 23 students from grades one through three or four. The district would draw the teacher's expense from one of two teacher positions that are held in reserve to meet bulges in enrollment.

Meanwhile, the district will convene a task force in the fall to examine concerns about the district's optional programs, Sorenson said.

"Hopefully, this will be a bridge-builder as we move forward with a task force that looks at the deeper issues," Sorenson said.

Glacier Valley Principal Ted Wilson said the school community is just now becoming aware of the proposal. A public meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Monday at the school library.

In an interview, Wilson called the proposal a tentative agreement and said he thinks the outlook is positive.

Pam Nicholson, a Glacier Valley parent, said she's "more than open" to the possibility of locating a Montessori classroom there. But she said all Glacier Valley students are equal and work together. Citing class sizes of 30 students in the third to fifth grades, she said she wants to be sure there will be equity.

Montessori parents who signed up for an admission lottery for the third classroom had considered a private solution when the district earlier turned down an expansion, Catherine Fritz, vice president of Southeast Alaska Friends of Montessori, said in an interview.

Under that scenario, parents would lease space for a classroom and affiliate with a school district that runs a cyber school. The phrase refers to home-school programs in which families receive use of a computer, and parents get a share of the state education funds their children generate for the school district.

The Juneau School District operates a local cyber school, but some districts run statewide programs. Juneau parents could affiliate with one of them and take to another district the state funds their children generate.

The Juneau School Board is scheduled to consider the proposed third classroom, if the Montessori program and Glacier Valley come to agreement, at its Aug. 3 meeting.

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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