District gives OK to sites for Montessori

Posted: Monday, August 01, 2005

The Juneau School District will place its three Montessori grade-school classrooms at Glacier Valley Elementary and two adolescent classrooms at Mendenhall River Community School, officials said.

Some Mendenhall River parents are worried about having seventh- through ninth-graders attend an elementary school.

But Assistant Superintendent Charla Wright said schools with kindergartners through eighth-graders are common in the United States.

The Montessori modular classrooms are no closer to the main building than the former Marie Drake Middle School was to Harborview Elementary, she said. The 34 adolescents will be supervised by two teachers.

Montessori parents had hoped to start a charter school this fall, but they faced objections from the Alaska Board of Education and problems finding space to rent.

Instead, the district will continue to operate the program, open to children throughout Juneau, but will place all the classrooms in the Mendenhall Valley.

Two Montessori elementary classrooms had been at Harborview Elementary downtown for many years. A third began at Glacier Valley last school year.

About 70 Montessori students in grades one through six will attend Glacier Valley in two modular buildings and in one classroom in the main building.

The adolescent program, now entering its third year, was in rented quarters downtown. Partly publicly funded as a type of correspondence school, it was part of the Juneau School District the first year, and it affiliated with another school district last year.

Its students will be taught in two modular buildings at Mendenhall River.

None of the Montessori modulars had been used as regular classrooms, Wright said. One was storage space, one was a RALLY before- and after-school room, one housed Indian studies, and one was a district training room. The displaced functions have been moved inside school buildings, she said.

Because the program is shifting from downtown to the Valley, some Montessori parents are concerned about getting their children to school, said parent Stephanie Allison.

Many Montessori families are from Douglas, north Douglas and downtown, she said.

Last school year, the district had an otherwise empty bus going from Harborview Elementary to the Valley, and Montessori students were able to use that to get to Glacier Valley. District officials are looking into whether they can continue that option this school year.

The other big question is how well the Montessori classrooms will fit with their host schools.

Allison said she could understand why some Mendenhall River parents are worried about having older students attend their school. But, she said, the adolescents are "a really great group of kids who have a lot of nurturing instinct."

The Montessori adolescents hosted visits of first-, second- and third-graders last school year, and the entire Montessori student body meets once or twice a year, she said.

"Part of Montessori is that aspect of older kids working with younger kids," Allison said. "I'm really confident that everything's going to work out. There will be adjustments for both Montessori and the host schools."

In March, when the Juneau School Board was considering approving a Montessori charter school that might have been placed in a regular school, some teachers at Glacier Valley opposed it.

They were worried that Montessori parents wouldn't be involved in the whole school. They said the Montessori classroom had fewer students than many other classrooms, and that it took space and the resources of specialists away from other students.

But Geri McLeod, a longtime teacher, said she thinks the teachers in Montessori and regular classrooms can work together.

"I think at Glacier Valley the concern is we welcome anyone to be part of our community," McLeod said. "So we would hope that Montessori would feel they are part of the community and not a school within a school."

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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