When the New York State Education Department released its initial results from the 2010-11 round of standardized testing, George Washington Elementary came up well behind other schools in the Kingston City School District. Ever since the results were announced, some parents of George Washington students have spoken out to ensure that their support for the Montessori program, which began its fourth year earlier this month, is heard.
In a two-page letter drafted in August by a group of George Washington parents, school officials and members of the Kingston Board of Education were asked to consider a number of factors beyond standardized testing before determining whether the Montessori program under the direction of Principal Valerie Hannum has been a success.
Josie and Robert Airhart have two daughters at George Washington: A 7-year-old in her third year in the Montessori program and a 5-year-old in her first. Unlike some parents who sent their children to the school from outside its attendance zone through a lottery, their children would have attended George Washington whether it had made the transition to Montessori or not. The implementation of the program in 2008 allayed their concerns about sending their children to a school that had underperformed for years; they say they’ve been quite happy with the results.
“To put it quite simply, we love Montessori at G.W.,” said Josie Airhart. “Our daughter who is entering second grade is excelling in all academic areas. She has a genuine enthusiasm for learning and loves going to school every day. In addition to learning academic fundamentals, she is learning about the importance of respect for everyone in her community and the world she lives in. She values diversity, she is learning how to make her own decisions and she is learning that she has a voice and an inherent value that is hers and hers alone.”
Similar stories of children with an increased enthusiasm for education since joining the Montessori program at George Washington were echoed by other parents as well, including Neal Yanoff, a father of two children at the school. Yanoff, the son of two teachers and a former teacher himself, said if a job search resulted in his family having to leave Kingston, the decision would be a difficult one largely because of the school.
“My son last year finished the first grade, and he was reading at a fifth- and sixth-grade level and his math was at a fifth- and sixth-grade level,” said Yanoff. “He was actually tutoring fifth- and sixth-graders. The teachers there are feeding his desire for more information and more knowledge. I’m thrilled.”
Jennifer Schwartz Berky became a fan of the program at George Washington before her son, now 5, was ready for school.
“I had heard many positive things about the program and went to visit in its first year,” she said. “Principal Valerie Hannum showed me around and explained her goals, philosophy and experiences developing a public Montessori in Philadelphia as well as her work at Robert Graves [Elementary]. I had already seen some of the other elementary schools in Kingston because I wanted to find the right place for my son to attend, and because I am an educator myself. The environment was tranquil, the children were respectful, the classrooms cheerfully decorated and carefully organized according to well-established Montessori principles, and it was clear that the children were focused on their work and very happy there.”
Berky’s decision to send her son to George Washington was the right one, she said.
(Photo: G.W. student Sweet Veronica washes a plant.)