After hearing from two dozen parents, School Board members said last week they may consider opening a separate elementary Montessori program in Arlington.
That possibility came at the Feb. 22 School Board meeting, as Board members considered proposed changes to the admission guidelines to county-wide programs.
The guidelines determine what students are admitted to attend Montessori preschool programs around the county; Arlington Science Focus and Arlington Traditional School elementary programs; an alternative elementary program at Campbell; Spanish-immersion elementary programs at Key and Claremont; and H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, covering grades 6-12.
But Thursday night’s discussion centered almost entirely on Drew Model School, which offers a regular, graded program alongside a Montessori program for preschool through fifth grade, with students learning in multi-age and multi-grade classrooms.
<b>IN DECEMBER,</b> the School Board voted to open the school to students from Nauck, a historically black neighborhood in South Arlington, to Drew Model School.
Drew served as Nauck’s neighborhood school from the 1940s until 1971, when students were bused around the county as part of a court order ending segregated schools.
When the Board made that decision, a few Drew parents were on hand, urging members to take steps to preserve the county-wide programs at the school, especially the elementary Montessori program. They returned in force last week.
Speaking to the School Board, Drew parents said they welcomed students from Nauck. But they worried that the school could be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of students.
“I think it’s an important part of Drew Model School’s identity to reconnect to the Nauck community,” said David Beck, father of a current Drew Montessori preschooler. “But I also believe that the Drew Model School that has grown and thrived [as a county-wide program] is important and precious.”
<b>DREW IS NAMED</b> for Charles R. Drew, chief of staff at the Howard University hospital in the 1940s and ‘50s. On Thursday, his great-niece Cathleen Drew urged the board to protect the county-wide programs at the school.
“An element of the school that my family perceived to be of significant value is that the school continues to be open across the county,” she said.
As a non-Nauck resident, she was concerned that some of her children might miss out on the opportunity to go to a school named after their great-great uncle.
Under the guidelines proposed to board members last week, slots in the Drew Montessori preschool program will be given first to the younger brothers and sisters of students already enrolled at Drew, then will be divided among other students around the county. That’s the same procedure at Montessori preschool programs around the county.
But under the proposed guidelines, in order to make Drew the neighborhood school for children in Nauck, students from Nauck with previous Montessori experience would be automatically admitted to the elementary Montessori program.
School Board members urged some changes in that process, making admission to Drew’s Montessori elementary automatic for all students from Nauck, but also for students with older brothers and sisters at Drew.
In order to keep the Montessori program thriving, board member Mary Hynes proposed making admission automatic for students enrolled in any Arlington Montessori preschool program.
<b>BUT PARENTS URGED</b> an expansion of the Montessori program overall, making it viable for more preschool students to attend Montessori programs, and then to advance in Montessori elementary classrooms.
Many parents said they were also hoping the schools would consider adding Montessori middle school and, eventually, high school programs.
They found some receptive ears on the School Board. “I’m interested in letting demand grow as much as we can,” said Elaine Furlow.
While Drew will continue to house the elementary Montessori program in the short run, she said, the board may have to consider moving the program elsewhere, if Nauck parents really want Drew as a neighborhood school.
“If both [Montessori and graded] programs are not viable at the same location, I would support Montessori at another location,” she said.
Other board members were not ready to make that decision. “We do get a question of what happens when programs are growing and they collide,” she said. “But I’m not immediately comfortable with saying the solution is to move Montessori.”
Board members will discuss Drew admission guidelines again on Feb. 5, in order to set the policies before the application period for next school year, which runs from March to April.
Until that enrollment takes place, said Board member David Foster, it may be hard to determine the future of the elementary Montessori program. “I’m afraid to handle this too hypothetically, until we see some numbers on it,” he said.