Buena Vista Montessori overcoming obstacles

       It was not an easy road that District 11 laid out for Buena Vista Elementary this school year:

Buena Vista students put on a multi-grade performance during a recent open house in the school gym.
Westside Pioneer photo
  • One hundred percent Montessori for the first time.
  • A new school site (924 W. Pikes Peak Ave).
  • No attendance area.
  • An identity crisis - in that BV's new site was the century-plus home of Washington Elementary (now closed but its sign re-mains over the front door); also, people still refer to Buena Vista's previous locale (now the West Center) as “Buena Vista.”
  • A split of the old Buena Vista, whose “traditionally” taught students, as well as those from Washington, wound up in the attendance area of the new West Elementary.
  • No clear district plan for marketing Buena Vista (still the only free public Montessori in the district). In fact, until just a couple of weeks ago, the district didn't even have the word “Montessori” on the school's website home page.
           Yet, despite such difficulties, the school is doing just fine in its first semester, according to Principal David Brilliant and parent volunteer Kristen Downs.
           Brilliant said the enrollment is 174 - well above the 159 projected going into this school year - with classroom space available for growth. A total of 36 Montessori students were lost from last year, but 42 new ones have come in (some from outside the school district)

    Complicating Buena Vista's efforts to "brand" itself at a different building this year is that District 11 has not removed the building's past identification as Washington Elementary - as is evident above the main entry doors and on the marquee (which still says "Washington" underneath the temporary Buena Vista banner).
    Westside Pioneer photo

    Principal David Brilliant.
    Westside Pioneer photo

           Brilliant was pleased also to find that “several families in the neighborhood” who had initially gone to West Elementary (their attendance-area school) have since decided to try the now-geographically closer Buena Vista and are “adjusting well” to Montessori's more independently geared, hands-on learning methodology.
           There is a waiting list for kindergarten and enough preschoolers to possibly add a fourth such class this year. By next year, another “upper elementary” class (grades 4-5) may be needed as well, Downs said.
           The school got a leg up on the school year at the get-go, thanks to a drama-free relocation this summer. Brilliant thanked Buena Vista's building managers (Tony Martinez and Jackie Aragon) for that. “There were no issues with missing or damaged equipment, and everything was ready to go a week and a half ahead of time,” Brilliant said.
           Parents are involved. Downs estimated 20 to 30 - most of them volunteering in the Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) or Building Accountability Ad-visory Committee (BAAC), or (like Downs) in both.
           Another favorable sign: Despite staff concerns before the move, the teacher turnover going into 2009-10 totalled one person, Brilliant noted.
           “I think everyone is in agreement that despite the upheaval with the move, there is an opportunity here to grow and expand the program,” he said, adding that, “with the district's help, we can make Buena Vista a shining light.”
           “We're not hurting,” Downs summed up in a separate interview. “We're doing quite well.”

    Buena Vista students, staff and parents march down Colorado Avenue during the Coronado High Homecoming Parade Sept. 26.
    Westside Pioneer photo

           Nevertheless, in large part due to the identity issues, a big push for Buena Vista Montessori is spreading the word about itself. With open enrollment starting in November, “the onus is on us this year to get the word out,” Downs said. She described a current ad campaign in selected area newspapers and magazines, plus an agreement the school has worked out with a billboard company to receive free billboard space somewhere on the Westside in the coming months.
           Buena Vista is also not sitting still in terms of academic growth and general aspirations. A recent school request, still being mulled by the district, is to let the school add a sixth grade to the current preschool-to-fifth. This would work better for the Montessori age groupings, according to Downs. The teaching of a foreign language is being pursued, and a project to create a school garden with nine raised garden beds (one for each class) is planned for this fall.
           On the latter project, project leader (also PTA President) Michelle Moore said she hopes construction can finish by spring break so planting can start then. Fundraising is also underway to cover an estimated $3,000 in project costs. “The students have raised $800 by selling flower bulbs, and Pikes Peak Urban Gardens has provided a $250 grant to our school,” Moore said. “We are currently seeking sponsorships of $250 a bed to finance our garden project. Sponsors will be permanently recognized with a plaque near our garden.”
           Montessori started as an alternative program at Buena Vista in 2004, led by parents who saw the new element as a meaningful expansion of the school's educational offerings and a way to enhance school enrollment (which had been dropping for several years). Last year, the program had evolved to encompass the majority of the school's students, although non-Montessori (traditional) education was still taught and in some “dual-track” cases combined with Montessori classrooms. The staff and parents had been happy with this arrangement, and before the District 11 Board of Education's final decision several of them argued stridently against the “reutilization” plan that resulted in the present school configurations.

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