Montessori free now at Buena Vista
School preparing to face demand issue

       More than 50 Buena Vista Elementary parents turned out to meet new principal Brenda Smith June 28, and in the process they got to hear some good news:
       All classes are now free.
       Tuition for preschool and full-day kindergaten had become an issue in connection with the school's ongoing transition to an all- Montessori program, but no tuition will be charged for at least the next two years, based on information from District 11 Title 1 Coordinator Holly Brilliant. She said that a Title 1 grant application by former Buena Vista Principal Alan Ras-mussen had been approved by the state, giving the school a “poverty status” (based on a high number of students with free or reduced lunches) that requires free tuition.
       Smith said she was pleased with the turnout at the informal school gathering - featuring pies she had baked herself - and particularly by the tuition news, which had become final only a short time beforehand. “We think we have a great opportunity to meet the needs of the students in our school,” she said.
       An offshoot of the free-tuition status, Smith noted, is that the school will probably receive many more applications for its preschool and kindergarten classes now. Nowhere else in the region is Montessori - a self-directed style of learning - offered free.
       However, she stressed that the school's attendance area “will always be served first.”
       Smith, who was hired just two weeks ago after working as assistant principal at Sabin Middle School last year, added that she is still looking into such free-tuition details as getting the word out to the school community and possibly hiring another teacher.
       Another possible impact from the free tuition is that an incursion of Montessori-experienced students - who tend to come from higher-income families - could cause the percentage of Title 1 (poverty-level) Buena Vista students to go down in the future. According to Brilliant, the grant was based on the statistic that 61.6 percent of the 190 students last year qualified for free or reduced lunches under Title 1.
       The district's cut-off for Title 1 aid this year is 54 percent. However, district policy dictates that even if Buena Vista fell under the cut-off percentage after the next reassesment - student count day Oct. 1 - it would still be guaranteed free tuition through the end of the 2006-07 school year, Brilliant said.
       As part of the transition, going into Montessori's second year at Buena Vista, the only classes available for students younger than kindergarten age in 2005-06 will be Montessori. All other grade levels will offer either Montessori or traditional classes.
       With its emphasis on individuals learning at their own pace, Montessori classes aren't set up to follow exact grade levels or even ages. Preschool and kindergarten are folded into the primary years class (ages 3-6), followed by lower elementary (6-9) and upper elementary (9-12).
       According to parent volunteers who helped start Montessori at Buena Vista, experience with the program is not essential for preschool-age students, but becomes more of a factor as they get older. Because of this, and a “best practice” goal of at least 80 percent experienced Montessori students in a classroom, they say that efforts will continue to attract Montessori-experienced students to go with any neighborhood students who want to switch from traditional to Montessori.
       Last year, according to figures previously supplied by the school, about 30 percent of Buena Vista's Montessori students in 2004-05 were from the attendance area, while 70 percent came from other District 11 schools or other districts.

Westside Pioneer article