Start of Montessori at Buena Vista sought for fall 2004

       The principal of Buena Vista Elemen-tary would like to see a Montessori program begin at his school by next fall. Alan Rasmussen’s goal is backed by a group of parents, including Lynne Casebeer, who likes Montessori’s alternative teaching strategy but “can’t afford” the private-school tuition she’s currently paying for her two children.
       “They (her kids, ages 2 and 4) just love it,” she said. “It promotes independence, with a lot of guidance from incredibly well-trained educators.”
       The District 11 Board of Education will make the final decision, probably sometime this spring, according to district spokesperson Elaine Naleski.
       Although it would be the first Montessori program in the district, Rasmussen said in a recent interview he is optimistic that the board will approve it.
       The program is a “great idea” for education that would likely attract students from outside the school’s attendance area, the 15-year Buena Vista principal said.
       He and Casebeer praised Montessori’s approach, which allows students to “learn at their own pace,” as Rasmussen put it. “They can learn fast or slow, depending on the makeup of the child, with no stigma.”
       From a performance standpoint, Montessori students at other public schools consistently perform at high levels – for example, Denison Montessori in Denver Public Schools – according to the proposal presented to District 11 by program supporters.
        The proposal states that the school’s plan is “to start small” with three classrooms covering ages 3-9. “There will be some cost for preschool and full-day kindergarten since these programs are not part of public school,” Rasmussen said, adding that sliding-scale scholarships will be sought.
       Two current teachers would need to be Montessori-trained and a third hired. A grant of a “few hundred thousand dollars” would be needed, assuming board approval, he said.
       Casebeer, who lives outside the Buena Vista attendance area, has been working with several other parents, teachers and staff on the plan for the school. These efforts have included community meetings and an awareness table at King Soopers, as well as a paper survey which indicated “a lot of positive support,” Rasmussen said.
       The plan appears to be in keeping with the recommendations of the Westside Task Force, a consortium of parents, district staff and citizens which recently studied solutions – other than closure – for Buena Vista and five other Westside schools that have suffered declining enrollment.
       The other five in the study were Midland, Washington, Pike, Bristol and Whittier. Midland, which implemented the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program two years ago, is seeing increases in student achievement and enrollment, according to the Task Force report.
       Washington is “exploring a classical academy core curriculum program,” and Bristol has implemented an arts program and “is looking at a potential math/science magnet,” the Task Force report states.
       Pike and Whittier are considering a variety of alternatives, the report indicates. While the task force made no recommendations for individual schools, it did call for magnet schools in general “as an opportunity to balance enrollment across the district and improve the instructional alternatives for each school neighborhood and community.”

Westside Pioneer article