A New (Public Montessori Charter) School Comes To Avondale

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A new Montessori school is taking shape to open in Avondale next fall.  

But it’s not going to be private.  It’s going to be Chicago’s first public charter Montessori.  
And it’s being founded by Rita Nolan, a veteran educator from Near North Montessori. 
Click below for an update from freelance writer Megan Cottrell. 

IMG_2018When Rita Nolan (pictured) and her team decided to create a new
Montessori school in Chicago,
there was never a question that it would be a public school.

“We knew going in that we could open another private
school,” Nolan explained earlier this year, sitting in a coffeehouse in Andersonville. “But we felt that there was a need. We
felt that we could make a contribution.”

Their new school, the Avondale Montessori
, just got approval from the Office of New Schools to open in 2010.  And, although several there are already several
public Montessori programs in CPS, such as Drummond, Oscar Mayer and Suder, Avondale
will be the first charter Montessori school in Chicago.

The school will start out with just 200 students – 150
kindergarten and first graders and 50 sixth graders – but will eventually take
in 600 kids in an industrial building along Elston Avenue in Avondale on
the city’s North West side.

Nolan has 22 years of experience in Montessori education,
teaching and directing the upper school at Chicago‘s Near North Montessori School in Bucktown.  Much as she loved working at Near North, Nolan
felt there was something more for her to do.

And, while most people think of Montessori as an expensive,
private model for education, Nolan says it’s anything but. “Montessori was
designed for the underserved kids in Rome.”

In recent years, public Montessori schools have become a
small but growing phenomenon.  There are about
280 such programs in the United
, according to Dennis Schapiro, editor
of the Public School Montessorian.

Nolan and her team chose the charter school model for its
flexibility, hoping to keep the Montessori model alive while still meeting
state standards Nolan hopes that a longer school day – from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. –
will allow for before school and after-school intensives for English language
learners and ISAT preparation without hindering the two to three hour work
periods essential to a Montessori classroom.

Almost just as important as figuring out how the school
would run was figuring it where it should be, says Nolan. The design team
wanted to find a stable community where the new school wouldn’t be the driving
force for gentrification, but also a neighborhood that needed more school
choices. They chose Avondale because it was close to Hermosa, Logan Square and Portage Park, three high-needs communities with
many children who aren’t native English speakers.

Mary Lass Stewart lives in the neighborhood and is excited
to see new educational options offered. She already sends her 3 year-old
daughter to Gateway Montessori preschool, so when she heard of a
Montessori school being opened in her neighborhood, she signed up to volunteer
for the effort.

But not all parents and community members have jumped on
board. Beth Ryan’s son is in fifth grade at nearby Linne elementary, where she
serves on the LSC. She was surprised to hear about a Montessori school being
started in Avondale and is concerned that it will hurt Linne’s enrollment, which
she says is now down to about 600 kids.

“I’ve tried for years with Linne to make them understand
that there’s competition,” says Ryan. “We have the money and resources to make
improvements, and we need to do that in order to compete.”

Nolan and her team have reached out to the community, often
going door to door to hand out information and answer people’s questions and
meeting with local leaders. They also hope that through targeted recruitment
the school’s enrollment lottery will consist of mainly neighborhood families.  

Overall, Nolan says, reaction to the school opening has been
pretty positive.  At one community fair
she attended, a mother stopped her son and pointed to the Avondale Montessori

“You’re going to go to that school,” the mother said.

The little boy walked up to Nolan, eyes wide open.

“Do you have recess?” he asked.

Nolan nodded.

“Okay,” the boy said. “I can come.”

The board is scheduled to vote on recommendations from the
Office of New Schools on Nov. 18. 

Cottrell writes the public housing blog, One Story Up.


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  • Now then! This is the kind of program that I envision when I think of a charter school. Something started by an educator and well-thought out as far as trying, intentionally, to serve the underserved.

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