About 40 students, parents, teachers and community members turned out for Monday’s school board meeting to share their thoughts about Isthmus Montessori Academy, the northeast side school seeking board approval to become the fourth charter school under district authority.
Madison Metropolitan School District charters are approved, monitored and accountable to the board. Other district charters include Nuestro Mundo Elementary School, Wright Middle School and Badger Rock Middle School.
IMA opened in 2012 and wants to become an MMSD charter to bring Montessori education to all interested families, regardless of income. The private school serves about 80 students from 3K to 15 years old. Currently, the average cost of tuition is $1,180 per month. If the school were to become a public charter school, there would be no cost to attend.
Maria Montessori developed the education model in the early 20th century. Montessori schools emphasize a free-flowing environment where students have a choice in their learning. Teachers structure their classrooms to allow students to explore concepts in three-hour time blocks. Children learn in “planes,” mixed age groups spanning three-year intervals. This model encourages younger students to learn from their older peers and gives older students a chance to reinforce and teach concepts they already covered to their younger classmates.
For over an hour on Monday evening, supporters praised IMA and the Montessori model as a space where children with varying cognitive abilities can learn and thrive.
Madison native Casey Schmitt urged the board to remember that the goal of district-sponsored charters is to produce innovative educational models that, ideally, benefit all MMSD students.
“When you have a Montessori school as part of the system, you’ve got a laboratory in shop,” Schmitt said. “Having an in-house Montessori will be extremely beneficial, not only to IMA but to the entire district at large in terms of development and collaboration.”
Suah Lim is from Korea and has two biracial children who attend IMA. She said IMA was the most diverse Montessori school she toured in the Madison area, but wants the board to approve the charter to make it more accessible to more students of color and lower-income families.
“I am in support of public Montessori so more minority children can access the wonderful Montessori method,” she said. “I also have other family and friends who would like to send their kids to Montessori, but they are not able to afford it.”
About a half-dozen IMA students spoke to the board about how much they love being a part of classrooms that allow them the autonomy to explore learning.
“I love my school because I can choose exactly what I want,” said Charlotte, 10.
In an interview with the Cap Times before Monday’s board meeting, IMA co-heads Melissa Droessler and Carrie Marlette expressed hope the board will approve the charter.
“There are many cities and rural areas where Montessori is a public option. We wanted to bring it to the children and families of Madison. Accessibility is our main goal,” Droessler said.
Marlette believes the Montessori model is one way to bolster academic achievement for all students.
“It meets so many different children at their own developmental needs that it would really naturally approach and probably ease, if not completely solve, so many of the gap issues that are existing right now in education,” she said.
The board will make the final decision whether or not to approve the charter proposal on Jan. 30.The Cap Times