Montessori program survives for another school year

Name on sign is only indication of Montessori program at Red Cedar School on Ann Street in Rice Lake.

The Rice Lake Board of Education debated over the future of the Montessori program at its June 10 meeting.

Based on low enrollment projections, district administrator Randy Drost gave them three options—leave as is, which is open to Grades 4K-3; reduce to Grades 4K and K; or eliminate the program.

The program was attracting an average of 30 students while it was held at Tainter Elementary in the school years 2015-16 to 2017-18. Enrollment dropped to 18 students in 2018-19 when the program was moved to Red Cedar School due to space constraints at Tainter.

Elementary principals said neither Hilltop nor Haugen elementaries have space for the program either.

Drost said if the board chose to keep it open, the district needs to establish a separate Montessori budget, make a long-term programming commitment, add playground equipment, schedule regular art, music and phy-ed time; schedule Title 1 services and provide special education services, if needed.

The design of a Montessori classroom is one that accommodates movement, exploration and interaction.

Program creator Maria Montessori believed that moving and learning were inseparable.

It is a hands-on approach to learning in which students work with specially-designed materials, manipulating and investigating until they master the lesson.

Characteristics of children who most benefit from this type of learning are those who are independent, creative and organized.

Children are regarded individually rather than as a group, and they enjoy freedom within limits. Self-correction is built into every lesson.

Board member Deanna Aubart, who said hers is a Montessori family, said she believes in the curriculum and felt strongly about keeping the program going as an option.

“I don’t want to minimize project-based learning,” Aubart said. “As parents, we could take steps to increase enrollment.”

She asked if the district was open to making it a full-day program. Drost said they could look into that option.

Board member Steve Bowman said, “The class sizes are enticing. I don’t know why you wouldn’t sign up for that.”

Drost acknowledged some parents had a little trepidation having their little ones there with high school students. But that won’t be an issue going forward with the Northern Lakes Regional Academy students being incorporated into a fab lab area of the high school.

Board member Lorrie Parkman said, “Red Cedar needs a lot of repairs.”

Buildings and grounds manager Pat Blackaller agreed that it needs a new roof, boiler and HVAC system.

Board member Doug Kucko said he struggled with the financing of the program.

Board member Gary Spear agreed that per pupil costs were way out of line.

Kucko suggested a Grade 4K/K program, like it initially was when started about 8 years ago, eliminating Grades 1-3 until enrollment numbers could be built up.

Bowman liked Kucko’s idea of having the Grade 4K/K students feed into the older grades in coming years. He said the program has not been marketed properly, and it is a “wonderful opportunity” for kids who would do well in a small class environment.

Parkman wondered if Red Cedar  School would be closed if the Montessori program was not based there. Drost replied that the district may continue to use the building in the future, and the district is not ready to give it back to the county just yet.

When tabling the matter was suggested, Aubart said no. “We have to make a decision so we can move forward, one way or another, so we can market it,” she said.

Board member Abbey Fischer wondered if staff could identify students who would do well there. The elementary principals said that hasn’t been done, but information about the program is on the website.

Although he said he would rather see it limited to Grades 4K and K, Bowman moved to leave the program as is for the coming school year.

Kucko, Parkman and Spear voted no, but the motion passed.

Other business

• Accepted the resignations of psychologist Kaitlyn Johnson; teachers Jeff Liermann, Nate Erickson, Melissa Fiamonchini and Donald Pashby; middle school coaches Liermann and Emily Sheplee; and assistant varsity baseball coach Joe Malek.

• Approved the hiring of teachers Klaudia Glowack and Kaitlyn Wendolek at Tainter; Michael Brown, eighth grade math and science teacher; Katherine Wick, administrative assistant; and Joe Lammers, wrestling coach at the Middle School.

• Announced that Hilltop Elementary second-grader Levi Ramsey was the winner of a chromebook, his name drawn from all those received Student Recognition Awards this school year.

• Approved minimal changes to the Athletic Code of Conduct.

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