11/17/2017 • Des Moines, Iowa • A new public Montessori school in Des Moines, Iowa, is planned for fall of 2020, according to several local news reports. Des Moines currently hosts the only public Montessori program in the state, Cowles Elementary, opened in 1994. The new school, on Des Moines’ less affluent northeast side, will be a neighborhood school serving 450 children from preschool through 6th grade. Des Moines Public Schools closed and sold two schools in the area ten years ago, but population has surged back since then and nearby buildings are ovecrowded.
This development brings together several elements common to public Montessori. First, when districts are ready to move, they move big. The planned site is 18 acres and has a price tag of $595,000—and that’s just for the bare land, which is currently horse pasture. The estimate for the building is $15,000,000. The school is planned for 450 students, pre-K through 6th grade, which raises some important questions: Where will they get enough trained, licensed teachers? Will they fill all levels right away, with non-Montessori children at the older age levels, or will they be able to grow from the bottom, leaving that expensive building below capacity for six years or more?
As is often the case, nearby overcrowding is one factor driving the move. But Montessori’s popularity is another. Here’s what Superintendent Tom Ahart had to say (across several news stories) about the model—”a very popular and meaningful program”:
- “‘Frankly, we think Montessori is effective’, Ahart said. ‘It sort of has a reputation as a boutique approach to education, but the foundation is really suited to urban students, especially students who are disadvantaged.’”
- “It tries to focus on following the lead of the child. Having children identify their strength and passions.”
- “It remains the only public Montessori in the state but because of constant parent requests, Ahart says another one is overdue. ‘We have never had enough space to meet the demand by a long shot.’”
The school board approved the move at a meeting on November 7. A public hearing is scheduled for November 21.