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No Montessori Move

After first look at Nauck enrollment, schools say no immediate changes likely for Montessori program.

With numbers in hand, School Board members scaled back their ambitions for Montessori programs in Arlington — at least for the moment.

Board members considered revised admission policies for Drew Model School at their Feb. 5 meeting, and are set to approve the revised guidelines on Feb. 20. Board discussion centered on how many students should be guaranteed enrollment to the Drew Montessori program.

In December, the School Board voted to open the school to students from Nauck, a historically black neighborhood in South Arlington, to Drew Model School.

To that end, the new guidelines guarantee space at the school for any Nauck neighborhood student interested in attending. The revised admission guidelines also guarantee enrollment to Montessori preschoolers at Drew, and students with brothers and sisters already attending Drew. If too many students applied for admission to the program, other students would be selected through a lottery.

<b>DREW OFFERS</b> a regular, graded program alongside a Montessori program for preschool through fifth grade, with students learning in multi-age and multi-grade classrooms. It is the only public elementary Montessori program in the county.

The school served as neighborhood school for the surrounding Nauck community from the 1940s until 1971, when students were bused around the county as part of a court order ending segregated schools.

Since the December decision, parents of current Drew students have urged Board members to take steps to ensure that students from across the county will continue to have an opportunity to enroll in an elementary Montessori program. Board members have indicated some interest, with Elaine Furlow raising the possibility of dedicating an entire building to Montessori education if Nauck enrollment drives the countywide program from Drew.

But since the Board was discussing the issue at the beginning of black history month, Board Chair Frank Wilson said, “I want to make sure Drew works as a neighborhood school before we address Montessori.”

<b>PROJECTIONS BY SCHOOL</b> staff showed that there would be enough space at Drew to keep the Montessori classes there through the coming school year while bringing some Nauck students into the school.

There are 330 students in three planning zones that make up Nauck eligible to enroll at Drew under the new guidelines. In the current school year, 127 already attend Drew, and another 50 students attend other countywide alternative elementary programs. The remaining 153 students are split between Abingdon and Hoffman-Boston elementary schools.

Letters of intent to enroll at Drew began coming into the Education Center, on North Quincy, earlier this month. With those letters in hand, director of administrative services Meg Tucillo told Board members that there would be no influx of Nauck students at Drew next year.

“There’s very little movement [out of current schools] at this point,” said Tucillo. In the first-grade class enrolling at Drew’s Montessori program next year, she said, “there are a total of five students indicating interest in moving into Drew.” First grade serves as the enrollment point for the Montessori program, the divide between preschool and regular school.

Next year, there will be 35 first graders starting the program at Drew, Tucillo said. Of those, 28 are Drew Montessori preschoolers continuing on, six come from other Montessori preschool programs around the county and one student comes from a private Montessori preschool. No applicants to enter the elementary Montessori program were turned down.

That shows that there’s room for Nauck students at Drew without looking at immediate expansion, school system staff said.

<b>LAST MONTH, TWO</b> dozen Drew parents came to the School Board, urging members to make allowances for a county-wide Montessori program to survive at Drew. Five parents made a return trip last Thursday, praising the guidelines that the board is set to pass, and pushing for increased Montessori funding.

“I would like to see the Montessori education program expanded,” said Maria Zemankova, the mother of a Drew Montessori student, and the sentiment was echoed by other parents.

“I think this is a place where the board can make the [funding] pie bigger,” said Peregrine Russell-Hunter.

<b>BUT WILSON SAID</b> he was not inclined to make those decisions right now. “I will have to think two or three, or four or five or six times, to guarantee that youngsters from other Montessoris have a shot” getting into Drew, he said.

It was a feeling driven by his own childhood. “These are experiences I’ve had: being passed up by buses, as I walked past one school to go to another one,” he said. “I want to make sure that the children in this neighborhood have had the opportunity to go this school.”

Furlow, who last month said she was willing to consider moving Drew’s Montessori elementary program to a separate building, was not ready to make that move after hearing about new enrollment numbers.

“There is quite a safety valve,” she said. “It seems to me, we have a couple reasons why we don’t need to set [the future of Montessori programs] in concrete right now.”

But, she added, “I am open and receptive to a growing Montessori preschool program, even if it means going so far as to put it in a new building.”