They’re not used to celebrating success at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale. The school received two consecutive failing grades from the state. It was rife with academic and behavioral problems.
So the Broward school district tried radical, sweeping change: it converted the entire school to a Montessori academy at the beginning of this school year.
“I saw a change academically in my child, I saw a change in behavior as well," said Shirley Sibert, who is raising her granddaughter, who graduated from the fifth grade Thursday.
If M.L.K. Elementary was a critically ill patient, Montessori, with its emphasis on independent learning, courtesy, grace, and self-control, was the emergency surgery that may have saved the patient’s life.
“It was an absolute success this year for year one, we’re so pleased with the growth that we have seen,” said Cheryl Proctor, the school’s principal.
NBC 6 reported on the beginnings of this social and educational experiment last August. Proctor says since that time, she and her staff have done monthly checkpoint assessments of their 427 students. They broke the data down by classroom, subject, and individual pupil, and say they saw substantial improvement in reading and math. (They don’t have the state’s FSA testing results yet because they haven’t been released.)
“The level of engagement that we saw in the children from classroom to classroom was at such an increased level, beyond anything that we had seen in previous years,” said Proctor.
Quinnet Banks has a son in first grade, and volunteers as a teacher’s aide.
“I like what they’re doing here, I think they’re learning more because they have to do it on their own,” Banks said.
The Montessori method teaches leadership and independent thinking. The parents and teachers here say that’s one of the reasons there’s been such a change in student behavior.
“Very palpable change, was evident in all the students across the board in regards to their behavior,” said teacher Nicole Von Alven. “It was a successful experiment going to Montessori, teaching the students how to be responsible, teaching the students how to love learning.”
The atmosphere, parents say, is totally different now. The principal, Cheryl Proctor, says it’s a great start, but expects the school to make bigger improvements as teachers get used to the Montessori method over the next couple of years. By that point, she says, success at M.L.K. Elementary won’t be unusual. It will be the norm.