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Group Wants New Montessori School in Arlington

by ARLnow.com April 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm 5,218 35 Comments

The Arlington Montessori Action Committee (AMAC), a six year old group of parents and educators, has launched a campaign to convince Arlington Public Schools to build a brand new school devoted to Montessori education.

As part of its ongoing capacity planning process, APS has been narrowing down its options for keeping up with rising enrollment at schools countywide. The options for adding capacity include building new schools and making additions to existing schools.

Montessori advocates have seized upon an APS proposal to build a new PreK-8 countywide magnet school between Carlin Springs Elementary and Kenmore Middle School. AMAC says the school would be ideal for a central Montessori “choice” program, hosting between 600 and 750 Montessori students either from PreK-5 or PreK-8. Currently, there are almost 600 PreK-8 students in 31 Montessori classrooms at schools across Arlington, with hundreds more on waiting lists, according to AMAC.

By drawing Montessori students away from already-crowded schools, the new Montessori choice school could efficiently help mitigate the school system’s looming capacity crisis, AMAC says. The group created a PowerPoint presentation to make their case.

In addition to helping relieve the capacity crunch, advocates say Montessori programs have educational benefits. AMAC cites the county-wide Montessori program at Drew Model Elementary as proof that a Montessori education can “[close] the achievement gap for minority students.”

  • Swag

    …and that is?

  • Frank


  • Rick

    Thats a pretty crafty group of six year olds.

  • teacher and resident

    What about costs? There are three elementary buses that pick up kids on my block every morning. Do we really need a special program for every group of overly active parents? This is a public school system. Send kids to their local schools, save money, focus on best practices, and deal with capacity properly. Class sizes are creeping up every year, even in schools with extra capacity. Arlington either doesn’t have the money, or refuses to spend it for education. The bloated administration is playing a shell game with the population, the budget, and student performance.

    • 1RLI

      Well stated.

    • Public Schooled Elem-College

      Right on. Send your kid to your local schools, use your tax dollars, and move on. Too many parents want to seclude their kid at the best school with little diversity because it’s “best for their little Johnny”. What’s best is letting your kid experience life as they should and not hand-holding and coddling their entire life and let them do what kids have been doing for decades. Plenty of people, like myself, end up at fine (public!) higher education institutions with lovely jobs and are able to come back to Arlington without Mommy and Daddy paying for the best schools so their Johnny doesn’t have to deal with public-school-scum

      • PUP


      • Arlington, Northside

        One school with a special ed program, one school with a GT Program, but every school should be a neighborhood school. It has worked for Fairfax for the last 40+ years.

      • Montessori parent

        What are you yammering about?

        This has nothing to do with “seclusion” or avoiding diversity. This would still be a public school, open to all. The current Montessori school, Drew, is also the neighborhood school for a majority-black neighborhood. A this group’s site notes, the Montessori side is more diverse than APS as a whole. It’s not about hand-holding or coddling either.

        Seek therapy for your anger issues.

        • LPL

          Drew may be diverse, public, and county-wide. But this proposal is just a way for North Arlington parents to get there kids out of the neighborhood Drew is in. Similar to the ATS parent who told me she wouldn’t send her kid there if it was in South Arlington.

          • Montessori parent

            Um, well, the fact that the proposal calls for building the new school in South Arlington is a minor detail.

            (Just barely in South Arlington, but close enough).

            No, I don’t think this is a way to get their kids out of Drew. Go to a Montessori classroom and tell me if it looks like the parents of the white kids there want their kids to be sheltered from black and brown kids. I would imagine Montessori parents would be just the opposite types.

            The county has floated a proposal to build a new magnet school. The Montessori parents think it should be a Montessori school because they think Montessori is cool. That’s it. No nutty get-my-kids-out-of-the-ghetto bullsh*t involved.

  • PUP

    sounds lame.

  • Arlington, Northside

    Yeahhhhh, more K-8 Montessori! ‘Cause the having the kids we already have who don’t know about boundries is not enough!

    • drax

      Always great to see a spelling error in an article about education.

      • Arlington, Northside

        f’ing spell check on “upgraded” windows. 😉

        • drax

          What boundaries were you talking about anyway?

  • Arlington Parent

    Why would this be a public school??? Out West, where I am originally from, Montessori schools are private. No way should an Arlington Public School be a Montessori school. No way.

    • Arlington, Northside

      The supporters will try to tell you it is just a teaching philosophy, but really it is a movement that you are correct in saying should not be supported by public dollars.

      • Greg

        Why? Just interested.

      • Montessori parent

        That’s absurd. All educational philosophies are “movements” including the ones we accept as the standard models for public schools.

        Oh, and Montessori may be a better one. But don’t let that get in your way. Stay in your thought-bubble.

    • LPL

      But there is already an entire elementary school devoted to Montessori, as well as PS-K programs in other schools throughout the county, all public.

      • Montessori parent

        As the site mentions, there is a waiting list for more kids who want into it.

      • APS Parent

        No elementary school is devoted to Montessori. The Montessori elementary program is at Drew, including eight lower elementary classrooms (1st, 2nd & 3rd grade) and three upper elementary classrooms (4th & 5th grade). The Montessori program (including pre-school and kindergarten) makes up about half of the roughly 550 students at Drew. The other half of Drew is a neighborhood graded program.

  • MC

    If I had young kids, I would love to be able to send them to a tax funded Montessori school, which is much more creative and promotes more self-initiation. As a tax payer, I would want to know that this isn’t more expensive, doesn’t require smaller class sizes to work, that there are qualified teachers in the area who meet state standards, etc.

    • Parent

      Please note there is a current APS Montessori program for PreK-8 that has been in Arlington for over 40 years. There is no increase in cost involved and no additional buses needed as the program is already a county-wide program. It is not more expensive and in fact can support larger class sizes than Arlington standards. Teachers meet all state requirements and are Montessori certified. Moving the program to Carlin Springs/Kenmore is an excellent way to ensure that Montessori is no longer the only choice program in APS without its own building and leadership. Its central location would help alleviate overcrowding in all quadrants of the county.

  • Brandon

    I’d like to see a traffic study on this one prior to them sticking another school on Carin Springs road. Just because there is open space doesn’t make it a perfect location. We already have Campbell, Carlin Springs and Kemore within approx. 1 mile of each other. Traffic is always backed up from rt. 50 to Campbell every morning. A fourth school would just make it worse.

    • drax

      A trolley would help.

    • Set the controls

      Indeed. Predictable wall-of-traffic from 7:30 to 8 AM every weekday. Does APS propose to put this new school on the Kenmore playing fields? If not, where?

  • Long time Montessori parent

    Arlington has one of the oldest public Montessori programs in the country. Two-thirds of the preschool spots are held for families who make about $80,000 a year or less. The program remains diverse and this would make sure more families can choose to attend and get out of overcrowded Arlington schools making room for others. Arlington is talking about building another choice school It would be prudent to populate it with a program that could fill it from day one and one that is having success with getting students from all backgrounds to learn.

  • APS Parent

    In addition to neighborhood elementary schools, Arlington Public Schools offers several choice programs. Arlington Science Focus offers an elementary level focus on science; Key and Claremont offer Spanish immersion programs. Arlington Traditional School offers an approach that is more traditional compared with the approaches in typical neighborhood schools; Hoffman-Boston now offers a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (“STEM”) program. And Arlington has a public Montessori program that fills about one-half of the facility at Drew Model School; the other half of Drew is a traditional, graded, neighborhood program with a significant focus on the arts. Each of those program schools has its own facility, and its own administration dedicated to the program, except for the Montessori program, which shares Drew’s facility and administration.

    Students from all over the county are bused to the choice schools; no student attends a choice program unless his or her parents choose it. This was Arlington’s principal tool to integrate without forced busing what was a very segregated school system. The choice schools, especially the Montessori program, remain far more integrated than the neighborhood schools which are only as integrated as the neighborhoods in which they are located. Families who prefer the neighborhood schools for any reason may have their children attend those schools simply by not choosing a different school.

    The Montessori program is an integrated program. Students of European ancestry make up less than one third of the Montessori program in Arlington Public Schools, although such students make up almost half of the total student population in the school system.

    To say a public school system should not have a Montessori school is to say that a public school system should only have a single, unified approach to education. This seems to me to be a very narrow way of viewing education. Different children respond to different teaching approaches. Arlington’s choice schools have been very successful in offering a fine, public elementary education in a variety of atmospheres and approaches: traditional, science-focused, Spanish-speaking, Montessori (for over forty years!), and, more recently, STEM. Only two approaches are out of place in the public schools: religious education and approaches that don’t work.

    Arlington has experienced significant growth in its school-age population in the last decade or so and it needs to make space for all of those kids. The school system and the School Board have made the policy decision that elementary schools with more than 700 or so students are just too big. As a result, at least one new school has to be built (there are, I think, twenty-two public elementary schools in Arlington; when the school-age population was even bigger, in the 1970s, for example, there were even more schools). People tend to love their neighborhood schools, so constructing a new neighborhood school means splitting up existing elementary school neighborhoods. With its tradition of effective, popular, choice schools, many in the school system believe that a better option is to build a new choice school, while also building modest additions (or moving relocatable classrooms) to existing schools. Because of the overcrowding problem, the new school will have to be filled rapidly. Moving the Montessori program from Drew to a new, centrally located school seems to be a good way to fill a choice school quickly: the Montessori program at Drew has grown a lot in recent years but Drew itself is running out of space for the program to grow. The school-age population in south Arlington is growing almost as quickly as that in the north, so more spaces at Drew will soon be needed for neighborhood kids. The Kennedy Center’s CETA program (“Changing Education Through the Arts”), which has been in place at Drew for several years, is bringing a significant focus on arts back into the public schools and is giving Drew a unique character and appeal as a model program that will help Drew to grow on its own without the Montessori program.

    Please don’t jump to conclusions about Montessori not belonging in Arlington Public Schools or about the imagined racism of a large number of dedicated, diverse parents who have chosen to send their kids to a majority minority program in a majority minority school. The Arlington Montessori program has been an integral and essential part of Arlington Public Schools for forty years. It is part of the solution to the current overcrowding crisis.

    • dk

      Thanks for this thoughtful, informative post.

    • teacher and resident

      Great information here. I’m still concerned about rising class sizes and cost. Successful or not, is this litany of special programs worth the cost? (maybe, but I’m not convinced). Dr. Murphy keeps increasing class size, even at schools that are not over crowded. And is doing nothing to trim costs (except not giving raises!). Currently the northern elementary schools are the most over-crowded, and siphoning off a dozen kids to bus them to a south or central location doesn’t seem to be a solution. Plus, all these kids will also be heading next to middle school and high school. And the fancy new buildings are being built too small.
      Maybe we ought to put a temporary school in one of the empty office buildings that the federal government is vacating.

      • drax

        Not sure if there’s much of an additional cost. You have to have a classroom and a teacher no matter what. It’s not like Montessori or any other special program imposes that much additional cost, I would think.

      • APS Parent

        I don’t think that the Montessori program is more or less expensive than any other. Arlington Public Schools embraced choice schools as the primary means to achieve integrated schools. Even if the choice schools are a bit more expensive than the neighborhood schools (and I doubt they are), voluntary busing to choice schools is preferable to forced busing.

        It is true that class size has been increasing. I would prefer a much smaller class (a faculty-student ratio of 1 to 12 or 14 sounds optimal to me), but that is too expensive. I understand that the School Board rejected the superintendent’s proposal to increase class size again for next year.

        You might want to have a look at the various documents on capacity and possible solutions to the shortage of classrooms. Code requirements for schools are quite different from those for office buildings, so the conversion isn’t as quick and easy as one might imagine. For example, all of the sinks and toilets would have to be swapped for ones closer to the ground so that the elementary school kids can reach them.

  • N. Arlington parent

    Montessori is a long-standing, successful pedagogy. I think it is wonderful that Arlington offers this choice to families and that it reserves the majority of entry spots for those below the median income. From a transportation/emissions and access perspective it seems reasonable to have it in the middle of the county if there is an opportunity for this.


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