Nearly three years after opening with 63 students in the fall of 2011, Wauwatosa Montessori School is expecting to serve more than double that population this fall and looking to continue that growth with a new section for seventh- and eighth-graders.
Montessori Principal Bill Anderson proposed the expansion, which would take effect for the 2015-16 school year, at a school board meeting Monday, July 14.
"It's kind of scary outside of that comfort zone, but we did it initially and look what we have now," Anderson said. "This has been all driven by the community and the parents."
The school currently serves students through grade six, who get in through a lottery system. The multi-age classrooms encourage students to take control of their learning through individual and collaborative projects, finding more direction from themselves and their peers as teachers guide them through theme-based curricula.
Montessori parents packed the boardroom Monday to support the proposal, composing the majority of about 60 people in the audience.
Kate Knowlton, whose daughter is going into sixth grade at the school, said her family will consider leaving the district if Montessori is not extended for middle school students.
"We would consider private education," Knowlton said. "This experience has been life changing. We're speaking to you loud and clear about how much we'll stay invested with you if you choose to keep investing."
Another parent, Erin Pandya, said her family has also considered leaving the district but stuck around specifically for the Montessori program.
"Because of two things in Tosa — the Hoyt Park Pool and Montessori — we will never leave," she said.
Anderson said the middle-school section could be accommodated in the school's current space at the Fisher Building, 12121 W. North Ave., although it may have to kick out the school board from its basement space. He said the school might partner with Whitman Middle School for access to athletics and clubs.
For the sake of school finances, Superintendent Phil Ertl hopes the expansion would help the district capture and retain families who otherwise may have gone elsewhere. If that's the case, the expansion would draw less per-pupil funding away from traditional middle schools.
"There is some risk and leap of faith as we move forward on this," Ertl said.
Ertl said he will work with Finance Director John Mack to bring a formal proposal to a board vote before the start of this school year. Ertl and several board members spoke in favor of the idea Monday.
"The way public education is going to survive is through choice within the system," said School Board President Mary Jo Randall. "We really have provided some great options that keep people from looking somewhere else. This is how public education should work and how kids should be supported."
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