Doubling down in Georgia
This article appears in the Spring 2021 issue of MontessoriPublic — Print Edition.
Georgia is ready, and the time is now
In January, our board of directors set a big goal: to double the number of Georgia school districts offering public Montessori over the next five years. Currently, Montessori is offered in just three districts around the state: Savannah-Chatham County (on the coast), DeKalb County (in metro Atlanta), and Baldwin County (in rural middle Georgia). Doubling that number will change the lives of children statewide and build momentum for further expansion of Montessori in the years to come.
Montessori Partnerships for Georgia is a nonprofit founded on the conviction that every child deserves access to an education that is joyful, inspiring, and helps them meet their full potential. Our mission is to expand access to quality, child-centered education through a network of public and community-based Montessori schools. To do this, we work in five impact areas:
- Engage parents and community leaders to drive demand for Montessori
- Ensure that state, local and federal policies support fully-implemented Montessori
- Help school districts (as well as early learning centers serving vulnerable communities) start and strengthen Montessori programs
- Provide professional learning for teachers and administrators
- Reduce the cost barrier to Montessori through Practical Lifesavers, our Montessori materials rescue program
As a support organization for publicly funded Montessori programs, we are uniquely positioned to catalyze the doubling of public Montessori in our state.
Georgia is ready! Here’s why:
Teacher certification: the state now recognizes Montessori teacher training from a MACTE-accredited center as a path to state teacher certification. This was one of our first big policy wins!
Flexibility: In Georgia, any school district can apply to become a charter district, gaining tremendous flexibility in how education is delivered. Even districts that have not gone the charter route can apply for waivers from state regulations. Districts committed to high-fidelity Montessori have the flexibility to implement it.
Precedent for mixed-age Children’s House: The pioneering Montessori public schools in our state, the longest-running of which implemented Montessori in 1988, have established a precedent for braiding funding sources (Georgia PreK and K-12) to create mixed-age classes at the Children’s House level integrating preK4 and kindergarten. The final step will be to incorporate three-year-olds into the mix by braiding in Head Start funding, state or local childcare funding, sliding scale tuition, or some combination thereof.
Now is the moment to act. The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March 2021, will send $4.25 billion to Georgia school districts. Appropriately, at least 20% of that funding must be used to help address student learning loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of the remaining funding is broadly flexible. For districts that are ready to invest in a new way of approaching education, one that supports each child’s individual needs and social-emotional learning while delivering an education that is both student-centered and highly structured, both rigorous and joyous, the opportunity has arrived.
A Montessori incubator
It’s not difficult for a school district to decide to pursue Montessori. To gain the knowledge and make the commitments needed to follow through with a sustainable, high-fidelity Montessori program, though, is much more of a challenge. Questions district and school leaders will need to address include:
What training will we seek for our teachers, administrators, specialists and instructional support team? How will we fund Montessori training? How will we ensure the existence of a pipeline of qualified teachers for future openings?
How will we fund three-year-olds in a way that ensures our Montessori classes reflect the economic diversity of our community?
What changes need to be made to establish three-year, mixed-age Montessori classes?
Which school buildings will need to have different age groupings of children than they have now?
How will this impact school funding, transportation, testing, personnel, and available space?
Beyond offering quality teacher training, how can we further support our teachers in addressing the needs of a 3-year mixed-age group?
What changes can we make to our physical classroom and outdoor spaces, to support the Montessori program?
How can we adjust our schedules to ensure that every Montessori class has an uninterrupted three-hour work time every day? How will lunch, playground time, and specialty teacher schedules need to adjust?
What staff do we need at the district level to support the Montessori programs? At the classroom level? How can we provide a paraprofessional in every Montessori Children’s House and Elementary class?
What tools will we use for assessing children, teachers, classrooms and the program as a whole?
How will we provide ongoing coaching and professional development for our Montessori team members?
Which district requirements will remain in place within the Montessori program, and which will be waived?
How will we build the Montessori program up over time?
To guide districts through these decisions, Montessori Partnerships for Georgia is designing a Montessori incubator program that districts will apply to be part of. Selected districts will send two to three team members to a series of monthly meetings, with individualized guidance and structured support to work through the decisions needed to implement a new Montessori program. Participating districts will receive partial subsidies for initial teacher training and preferred purchasing status with Practical Lifesavers, our Montessori materials rescue program.
A key partnership
In the first phase of the Montessori Incubator, we are thrilled to be partnering with Dr. Kathaleena Monds of Albany State University to introduce Montessori to school districts and early learning centers in Southwest Georgia. This area of the state is mostly rural, includes many districts with majority-Black populations, and is more than two hours’ drive from the nearest existing public Montessori schools.
Albany State, a nationally top-ranked HBCU founded in 1903, is part of the University System of Georgia. Dr. Monds is the founding director of The Center for Educational Opportunity, which provides support for K-12 research on educational innovations, opportunities, access, and models germane to students living in fragile communities.
Dr. Monds and I will kick off the partnership by coauthoring a white paper, “Why Montessori for Southwest Georgia?” and hosting a webinar to reach out to southwest Georgia district leaders, teachers, parents and Head Start providers. The Center for Educational Opportunity already has a strong relationship with nearby school districts as well as with the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, which provides Head Start for southwest Georgia. As the incubator moves into the implementation stage, we will partner with researchers from the Center to explore the effectiveness of Montessori in Georgia public schools.
As we bring the Montessori Incubator program to life, we are seeking additional partnerships to move it forward. We have opened conversations with several teacher training programs and are particularly excited about partnering with the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector to bring their Montessori Teacher Residency to southwest Georgia.
In addition, we are seeking funding partners to support the incubator so that school districts, many of which work on very tight budgets (especially in the rural parts of the state), can focus their available funds on training teachers and equipping classrooms.
We are so excited at the partnerships we’re developing to expand access to Montessori across the state, and thrilled to continue building on this synergy to reach our goal of doubling the number of Georgia districts offering public Montessori by 2026.
Annie Frazer is the founder and Executive Director of Montessori Partnerships for Georgia, a nonprofit that expands access to Montessori through a network of public and community-based Montessori schools.