Broward County is betting on the Montessori Method to transform a failing school.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Sunrise is now Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Montessori Academy after receiving failing grades two years in a row, at which point the school disctrict is obligated to try something new.
While national studies draw mixed conclusions about the academic performance of Montessori students, Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said the first week has been a success for this school.
"What we've seen in just our first week of school has been really inspiring," Runcie said. "So we believe we’re on the right track. We can see it in the classrooms."
As part of the school's transformation, the teachers went through a seven-week training course over the summer to learn the Montessori teaching method. It emphasizes learning at the student's own pace, with hands-on instruction that also teaches students grace and courtesy.
"The vision is to try to transform the community, one child at a time," said Martin Luther King, Jr. Principal Cheryl Proctor.
Proctor said she's already seen the majority of students adjusting to the new approach, and Broward School Board member Dr. Rosalind Osgood agrees.
“I see them engaged. I see them responding in a positive way," Osgood said. "I see them asking questions and being involved in the learning process."
The students learn their lessons independently or collaboratively, sitting wherever they want in the classroom. The Montessori method aims to get students engaged in their own education.
Runcie said the school has a completely different feel than it did last year.
“The culture, the look, the feel in this school is dramatically different from what it was last year,” Runcie said.
Runcie predicts success at the new school will spark the creation of more Montessori schools, adding to the two others in Broward.