Space getting tighter at Buena Vista Elementary
Montessori started at Buena Vista Elementary eight years ago - the first (and still the only) such program in a public school in the region.
After nearly a century of offering traditional teaching, the Westside school first had to adjust to a gradual changeover, then weathered a sudden switch three years ago to a different building, no attendance area and a Montessori format for all its kids.
Now BV's biggest problem is that it might be growing too fast. The majority of the students come from the nearest zip codes (80904 and 05), while many others “choice” in from outlying districts or elsewhere in D-11.
Not that Principal David Brilliant sees that as a bad sort of problem. “It's good that the program is growing and people have taken an interest in Montessori education,” he said in a recent interview.
Still, it can't be denied that space is becoming a factor. In the years that Washington Elementary had the building at 924 W. Pikes Peak Ave., the capacity was rated at 288. But because Montessori uses space differently, with children often spread out on the floor instead of at desks, District 11 lowered the full- utilization number to 250. If BV's five sections of Primary classes (ages 3-5) are added to the tally - and with Montessori, the educational experience is perceived as starting at age 3 - the actual BV enrollment totals 255, putting the school over-capacity.
On top of all that, Brilliant and the school's parents would like to add grades. This is the first year there's been a sixth grade. A middle school has been under consideration for about two years, and even a Montessori high school has been conceptualized. The idea is that a K-12 program would enable students to evolve from the self-motivated-but-adult-guided elementary years to “community-based” endeavors that would involve “students taking ownership” of various activities, Brilliant said. As an example, he pointed to a Montessori high school program in Golden, where students grow food and sell it at a farmers market. He also believes Montessori is readily adaptable to modern technology, with individual electronic tools such as iPads and Notebooks adding to the emphasis on personal learning.
But none of the above will be possible without more space. So it is that Brilliant is waiting to see the results of the D-11 utilization process, which could result in one or more schools closing after this year.
While he is not publicly rooting for any of the “considerations” proposed by a district committee, some of them would make buildings available (such as Bates, Edison or Lincoln elementaries or Mann or Galileo middle schools).
The details on how that might work out for BV is unclear. Two schools for Montessori (the current site for the lower grades and one elsewhere for the upper ones)? Or, if a large school were available, letting BV relocate entirely - leaving behind the Westside where the school started in 1911 - but what would happen to the current site?
Brilliant is not relishing the idea of leaving the Westside. He believes Montessori fits well with the area's outdoor opportunities and love of freedom. And the impact of a school departure is a "conversation we'd need to have as a school community."
Overall, BV's space situation is “not a bad thing,” Brilliant wanted to make clear. “We're doing well here, and if we stay we will figure out a way to adjust and accommodate. But it's interesting that we're almost a victim of our successes. The growing pains have caused us to talk about things in different ways.”
Westside Pioneer article