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Enrollment up, Mountain Song School quests for smoother path in 3rd year

New Mountain Song Community School Executive Director Raj Solanki.
Courtesy of Mountain Song
       It's been somewhat of a bumpy road for the first two years of Mountain Song Community School, but enrollment has risen nonetheless, and new director Raj Solanki believes the school “is poised to be more successful,” he said in a recent interview.
       Mountain Song is a free, state-chartered K-7 school (planning to add eighth grade next year) that rents the former Whittier Elementary building at 2904 W. Kiowa St. from District 11. An all-choice school that follows the Waldorf instructional philosophy, Mountain Song had about 200 students when it opened in fall 2013 and will be up to 300 (with a waiting list for all three kindergarten classes) when its 2015-16 school year starts Sept. 2.
       Solanki bases his confidence on several factors, including more experienced administrators and teachers; a better handle on financial aspects; a fuller understanding of how to work with the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI), through which Mountain Song receives state per-pupil funding; and an abiding trust in the Waldorf approach, which seeks to develop creative thinkers through educational methods perceived as more natural to the human spirit.
       Solanki is the third Mountain Song director (not counting interim replacements during the latter months of the first two years). He is not new to Colorado Springs, Waldorf or the school itself. He grew up in Colorado Springs, (attending Colorado Springs Christian School), then returned here in 2010 and now lives on the Westside.
       His own son has been in Waldorf since preschool in Oregon and is a Mountain Song student. Although not previously a school director, Solanki is a certified teacher and has been with
A geodesic dome is a recent addition to the mini-farm that Mountain Song created in a former parking area. According to Raj Solanki, the school's director, the dome is currently empty but will eventually house growing beds for the garden. The photo was shot through the fence that surrounds the chicken coop. In the foreground, a hen browses for food. The farm also once had goats, but no more.
Westside Pioneer photo
Mountain Song “since the beginning,” as he states on the school website: “I've learned a great deal helping to form the charter, championing the school with parents, district board members and the state authorizer, serving as vice president of the founding and governing board, and now continuing my service as director.”
       The school's first director, who had been one of its founders, had to be let go because of difficult personal reasons; and educational differences led the school to part ways with its second director, who'd been hired last summer.
       During that time, there has been a fair amount of teacher turnover (only six of the original instructors remain), some financial uncertainties (requiring consultant assistance) and low scores on the state's standardized tests (putting the school into “turnaround” status academically).
       But Solanki persisted, along with others who make up the school's core leadership. And now, he said, “I think everything is in order. I'm excited about the coming year.”
       One plus is that CSI has clarified what it expects from Mountain Song. Solanki's opinion is that some of the school's problems could have been averted if such communications had taken place earlier on. “I feel like there could be more guidance from the state,” he said. “They didn't step in until we were in trouble.”
       Regarding the academic aspects, a complication stems from the state's requirement (starting last year) that all testing must be done on computers. But the Waldorf philosophy frowns on computers at early ages. An essay referenced on the Mountain Song website explains that “waiting to teach technological literacy until Grade 6 and limiting screen time are essential for the gradual unfolding of cognitive and social emotional capacities that allow them [students] to become responsible citizens in the 'faceless' world of technology.” And it's been reported previously that some Silicon Valley engineering leaders even send their students to Waldorf schools in hopes they will learn to think “out of the box” so as to lead future innovation.
       Solanki said he has received feedback from the state that paper may be allowed for standardized tests; also, he elaborated, a consistent teaching balance is being encouraged at Mountain Song so as not to underplay the knowledge required in standard testing, but at the same time not to let the tests overwhelm the Waldorf approach.
       Another reason he is optimistic is that the school has hired a Waldorf-certified “pedagogical director” (ElizaBeth Wildemann) who will oversee the teaching. And the teachers themselves each average 11 years experience, with nearly half owning master's degrees, Solanki said.
       A prominent impact of Mountain Song since its inception has been the mini-farm that the school created in a former parking area on the Bijou Street side as a hands-on part of its agriculture/arts program. The new ag/arts teacher this year is Elise Bowan, a Mountain Song founding member who had previously worked with the Pikes Peak Urban Gardens in starting community gardens on the Westside.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 8/23/15; Schools: Other than District 11)

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