Orcas school district opts to continue Montessori

The Orcas Island Elementary School Montessori class will accept first-grade students in fall 2018.

After hearing the pleas of more than 20 parents and community members in May, Superintendent Eric Webb presented a letter with his recommendation to the school board regarding the future of Montessori during a special meeting on June 18. The board took no action during the session since Webb’s recommendation was in support of maintaining the class as it is for the next year.

“In order for us to keep this wonderful program going, we have to bring in these first-graders,” Webb said at the meeting. “That also allows us to have a year-long discussion about how we move forward with these different things … The point is to have a committee to work together to put together the best possible school that we can in Montessori and to move forward with it.”

The Montessori program at the public school began 15 years ago and has been taught by Martha Inch since its inception. The class is a mixed-age group comprised of first- through third-grade students. Inch will teach the Montessori class for one more year before she voluntarily migrates to OISD’s alternative educational program OASIS in fall 2019.

“I simply want to say thank you, Martha, because we wouldn’t be here today without your 15 years in that classroom and getting it to the point that it’s at today. We appreciate it,” Webb said.

When Inch announced her plans to the school district, Elementary Principal Lorena Stankevich held a meeting with teachers to discuss what would happen with the Montessori program. They decided it was no longer in the students’ best interest to continue the class, and Webb originally recommended the program be terminated, but after hearing from parents during the board’s May 24 meeting, he changed his mind.

Webb said that Inch agreed to be on a steering committee devoted to finding an equitable solution for a future that includes Montessori remaining at the public school. She also volunteered to be a mentor to whoever is hired to take over the class.

“It’s important that we set this teacher up for success moving forward and we have Martha right here to do that. Martha in her new role with the OASIS program will allow her a little bit flexibility of time so she can work directly with this new teacher,” Webb said. “But there’s still a lot of the details that we have to work out and that’s why we need a year to do that.”

Webb’s letter suggested that the Montessori class move into the modular building next to the administrative offices – which he said provides a lot of space, light and customization possibilities. Additionally, though not included in the written recommendation, Webb said he is open to considering expanding the Montessori program to include fourth- through sixth-graders and creating a stand-alone Montessori school within the district. He said that the district would have to request the option to create a separate Montessori school from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in June 2019.

”This is a program that can grow. With this kind of participation and desire for this, do we look at that?” Webb questioned. “This isn’t something that just goes away with a group of parents; this is something that has been here for 15 years. This is definitely something that we would look at in how would we expand that.”

Webb wants to have the steering committee organized by September and would like to have the opening for a new Montessori teacher posted beginning in October or November.

“We want to get ahead of the rush,” he said.