Future is uncertain for Montessori

Wake schools officials could remove program from Poe Elementary, but no new location has been set

khui@newsobserver.comAugust 26, 2012 

  • What is Montessori? Montessori education is built around the idea that children benefit from doing hands-on activities. Children are given the freedom, within limits, to learn at their own pace and do what interests them. The teachers act as observers who keep them on track. Children of different ages are often put into the same class so they can learn from one another. The first Montessori School opened in Rome in 1907. The American Montessori Society estimates there are more than 4,000 Montessori schools in the U.S., most of them private.

— The future of Montessori education in the Wake County school system is uncertain as school leaders try to find a new home for a unique program that stresses hands-on activities and multi-age classes.

Wake County school administrators want to phase out the Montessori program at Poe Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh and replace it with a new magnet theme because not enough families are applying to the school. But the idea of relocating Montessori to Lynn Road Elementary School in North Raleigh has been dropped following opposition from some parents.

School leaders are now talking about whether Montessori should be relocated to another existing school where they might get more community support or whether a new school should house the program.

“I believe that there is a market and a need in a school district this size for a Montessori program, and we’re not pulling away from that,” Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore told school board members last week.

Poe became the district’s first, and still only, Montessori school in 1995. The move was made because Poe, on Peyton Street near Poole Road, was having trouble attracting magnet students under its prior international studies theme.

Seventeen years later, school leaders say they’re again having problems luring magnet students to Poe, which had about 360 students last year. Wake tried to raise the percentage of magnet students at Poe to 80 percent.

Administrators want to change the magnet themes for Poe and Moore Square Middle School, in downtown Raleigh, and to add magnet programs to three North Raleigh schools. Funding would come from a federal grant that Wake will apply for next year.

“We do want to ... shore up the magnet status of those schools, and we know that means we have to move the Montessori program,” Moore said.

Moore said Poe’s new theme hasn’t been determined yet, but the school will continue to serve the existing Montessori students as it phases out the program over the next several years.

“I’m a huge proponent of Montessori, and I believe in the program greatly, but I also recognize the issues,” said school board member Susan Evans, whose two children attended Poe.

Lynn Road parents had embraced the possibility of getting a magnet program but weren’t as supportive of the Montessori concept.

“Changing this school to a Montessori is such a drastic change from what we have worked so hard to attain,” Mary Jane Swecker and Becky Chapman, Lynn Road’s PTA co-presidents, said in a written statement. “Years of work and commitment would be undone if such a change were to occur.”

Administrators have dropped Lynn Road from the list of planned magnet schools and replaced it with Fox Road Elementary School near Triangle Town Center mall. But there are no plans to add the Montessori program at Fox Road.

Moore said they need to spend more time to determine where they’ll offer Montessori.

One option is to see whether there’s enough demand at another existing school.

Another option is to emulate what’s being done with the two new single-sex leadership academies, where new schools accept only students who apply to the program. Moore said that the most successful Montessori public schools in the state are application-only.

“It’s a different kind of an interest and much more narrowly focused for what you might find for general magnet programming,” Moore said. “These folks really want the Montessori programming, so I think there’s a demand for it. So we’re not saying that Montessori is off the table, but we want to take some time.”

Staff writer Colin Campbell contributed to this report.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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