In an attempt to attract more families, the Detroit school district will create its first free-standing Montessori school, planned to open by next fall in the Woodbridge neighborhood.

The new school will be housed in a building the district will take back from a charter school and spend $1.5 million remodeling. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has described the program as a “wall-to-wall” Montessori school.

The school has the potential to do something that’s crucial to the district’s success: Attract parents who might otherwise consider sending their children to private or non-district public schools.

The district already operates Montessori programs that share space with traditional programs in four school buildings — Edison, Maybury, Palmer Park and Spain.

The Detroit school board on Tuesday approved the district’s plan to upgrade its building that will be vacated by GEE Edmonson, a charter school, and to open a Montessori-only school in the refurbished space. The district earlier had decided not to renew the charter school’s lease.

The Edmonson campus is one of  several buildings the district plans to upgrade and open as new schools. Other schools will be repaired.

 

In February, Vitti told school board members that locating a Montessori program at the Edmonson building would relieve pressure on Spain Elementary-Middle School, which currently houses a Montessori program. He said the Spain building has struggled to maintain both a performing arts program and a Montessori program in the same building.

He foresees phasing down that program as the new Montessori expands and attracts more students. Vitti has chatted up the plans at several meetings with parents.

“We believe we can create a model Montessori program at Edmonson,” Vitti said at one meeting.

Montessori programs have been popular in the district since they were created several years ago.

The program allows children to learn at their own pace in mixed-age classrooms, and emphasizes independence. It is based on the teachings of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator.

Vitti also told parents this week that the district is also planning to expand a Montessori school that shares space with a traditional program at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy. Vitti said the district would stop admitting non-Montessori students next school year, but allow those currently enrolled to continue attending the school. It would take about eight to nine years for the school to become all-Montessori.

Vitti said the district might consider other “wall-to-wall” Montessori schools in the future, but for now, the focus is on Edmonson.

Trevor Layton, president of the Detroit Public Montessori Community Group, said he’s pleased to see the district is committed to Montessori programs.

“It seems to be a really good opportunity to further develop its identity,” said Layton, whose son is a first-grader at Edison. But, he said, he hopes the district continues to maintain existing programs in their current locations.

That’s important, he said, because when the Montessori programs are at multiple schools, it increases exposure and understanding of the program. More important, he said, it prevents the perception that the programs are insulated or somehow exclusive.

Vitti said this week that the district is encouraging Spain Montessori parents to transfer to Edmonson. But for those who want to stay at Spain, he assured them that the program would remain until existing students reach eighth grade.

At a school board meeting Tuesday night, Vitti said he understood the angst among some of the Spain Montessori parents.

“Right now it appears that the majority of parents will go to Edmonson from Spain. It doesn’t mean everyone is happy. But the majority are happy to have a wall-to-wall Montessori program,” Vitti said.

The update to the Edmonson building was among $4 million worth of upgrades that the board approved on Tuesday. All involved refurbishing buildings — three of them occupied by charter schools that are losing their leases — to become new district schools. A fourth building that had been previously closed would be reopened as a district school.

It’s part of a plan to open new schools and expand existing programs in areas of the district that have room for growth.

Read more about the plan here.

Also Tuesday:

Building repairs

The board approved spending nearly $10 million to repair more than 40 school buildings that need major work. The work will help address an estimated $500 million in building problems facing the district. That price tag is expected to rise to nearly $1.4 billion in five years if the district does nothing.

The schools that will get repairs fall into two groups: They are buildings with strong enrollment, high utilization rates and multiple repair needs (but in otherwise in better condition than most schools). Or they are buildings with a pressing problem that must be fixed, like a leaky roof.

Read more about the plan here.

Technology boost

The board approved a plan to expand a pilot one-to-one technology program that provides every K-8 student with access to a laptop.

The district would spend nearly $16 million to purchase laptops for the 31 schools that will join the initiative. The pilot included 25 schools.