Submitted by the Orcas Island School District.
At the Dec. 18 meeting of the Orcas Island School Board, the district-appointed Montessori steering committee reported on its ongoing discussions and recommendations for the elementary classroom in 2019-2020 and beyond.
“Uppermost in our minds is what’s best for all of the students,” said Ed Wilson, one member of the 10-member committee. “Students in the Montessori classroom will have a new teacher next year because current teacher Martha Inch will be moving to a new position in the district. The new Montessori teacher, yet to be hired, will be mentored throughout the school year by Martha, who has taught the Montessori classroom since it began in 2003.”
Also next year, instead of meeting on the ground floor of the elementary school, it is recommended that the class meet in a new location – the modular building next door to the elementary school – just north of the administration building.
It would be called the Montessori classroom and function as it does now, but technically it would become a separate school with its own part-time administrator, to be appointed by Superintendent Eric Webb from among existing district staff.
The rationale for these changes is primarily administrative. Because school district responsibilities are allocated building-by-building, the elementary principal is responsible for all teaching activities inside the elementary school.
The “Montessori Method,” named after the Italian physician who developed it, differs in methodology and materials from the traditional teaching approaches used elsewhere in Orcas Island Elementary School. This has created some administrative challenges and, last May and June, administrators considered phasing out the Montessori classroom.
When this consideration was raised publicly, there was an impassioned response from dozens of Montessori parents and supporters who advocated for continuing and possibly even expanding the Montessori classroom – based on its 15-year history of alumni success stories throughout the Orcas public school system and more applicants most years than spaces available. The classroom has been an appealing choice for many families with 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.
After lengthy discussion and consideration, the school board asked Webb to find a way to continue offering the popular Montessori option to families, while overcoming the administrative challenges. The steering committee was formed, has met extensively since October and reached all of its recommendations by consensus.
The 10 members include current Montessori teacher Inch, teachers union representative Glenda Smith, two parents from the Montessori Advocacy for Public Schools coalition, three longtime public school supporters from the Orcas community at large, School Board Director Greg White, Webb and facilitator Tom Murphy, an experienced school administrator himself.
“The steering committee has already begun to develop a detailed Montessori classroom operations manual, covering admissions policies, classroom procedures, and other essential information – all to be completed by June 2019 to facilitate a smooth transition from the first 15 years of Montessori into the future,” said Wilson.