Under-enrolled east Austin school looks to Montessori program to fill seats

Winn Elementary (Erin Cargile/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District is launching its first Montessori program this year at Winn Elementary School, an under-enrolled school in East Austin.

The teaching method that involves more hands-on learning and an environment where students are given more freedom to make choices dates back to the early 1900s.

There are more than 20 Montessori options in Austin, but up to this point, all but one are private schools west of Interstate 35.

“The parents in this neighborhood have rallied together to say this is what we want for our kids,” said Jacquie Porter, director of early childhood for AISD. “When we talk about reinventing the urban experience, this is one great example of offering choice to parents and allowing them to think beyond traditional school.”

Many parents in the neighborhood have not been choosing Winn. Half of the seats were empty on campus last year when student enrollment was about 250 in a building that can hold 500.

About half a mile away sits the city’s only free public charter Montessori school, Magnolia Montessori For All, which is bursting at the seams. Executive director Sara Cotner says they have 600 families on the waiting list. The campus opened in 2014 with 300 children in grades pre-K through third grade. This summer they are putting the finishing touches on a permanent school next door which will open in the fall with 500 students in grades pre-K through sixth grade.

“We are really excited that AISD has decided to make this move, and we are eager to work in partnership with them to deliver more high-quality options for families in East Austin,” said Cotner.

AISD will launch their Montessori program at Winn with pre-k and kindergarten, and add-on a grade each year until all students are on board. The school is already starting to register children for upcoming school year. The school currently only has a few more spots left.

Marisol Zambrano is looking forward to her 2-year-old son, Emilio, being old enough to enter the program next fall.

“She thinks they learn better at a younger age and it’s going to help him with English,” said her daughter, Yolanda, who helped translate.

Zambrano said she has received a lot of information about the change, and AISD says they have held several parent meetings to answer questions and provide other options for parents who are not interested in the Montessori model.

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