Dallas Public Schools: Is It Really a Montessori?

Photo: Bethany Erickson

Photo: Bethany Erickson

“We are looking at one of the two montessori schools Dallas ISD offers, and if we moved we are considering living near the one neighborhood montessori, Mata Elementary,” I’ve said more times than I can count when people ask about where Tiny will go to school. “And if that doesn’t happen, we are happy with him going to our feeder school – Withers Elementary.”

And inevitably, the response is, “Oh, it can’t be a real montessori – it’s in the Dallas public school system.” And at first, I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how the two jibed either. Is there a way for the methods of Maria Montessori to dovetail with federal and state requirements placed on a school?

The answer, in short, is yes. At the crux of the the Montessori method is accountability and teaching the child to take his or her learning into his or her own hands. After two tours (Dealey and Harry Stone), I heard the same things from both groups of teachers – the kids learn the same things students in regular schools learn. It’s the approach that is different – and quite exciting, if you ask me.

Teachers at Harry Stone explained that each student is given a list of assignments (the same assignments a peer at a regular school would get) that must be completed for the week. When and how they work on them is up to the student – although many, one third grade teacher at Harry Stone said, like to take a day and just work on one subject. A handout explaining the Montessori method also outlined some expectations for parents, too – namely letting your child be responsible for their belongings and possessions. Did he forget his math book? If you don’t make a special trip back to school to bring it to him, chances are he’ll remember it tomorrow, and every other day. Did she forget to put her backpack in the car the night before? Again, a lesson learned also means an opportunity for not just book learning, but life learning as well.

I’ll have more on each individual school in the weeks to come, but at both tours, I was impressed with the willingness to answer any and all questions, the classrooms lined with all kinds of learning tools and books, and the variety of interests addressed – especially as the students get older. At Harry Stone – which is also an International Baccalaureate school – older students served as guides, taking each prospective parent through the entire school, letting them meet with teachers at various levels. We toured the music room, and saw the classrooms where students could learn Mandarin, French or Spanish. At Dealey, we learned a lot about the interview and evaluation process.

Parents can start applying for magnet schools (which include montessori schools, vanguard schools and magnet high schools) online on January 12, and the deadline to submit your application is January 30. If you apply online, you will still need to bring your letter of parental interest and your proof of residency to your school of choice. First choice school assessments begin on January 12 and goes through February 21.  I covered the evaluation process and how the schools determine who gets in and who doesn’t last month.