Canutillo opens first public Montessori program in El Paso

The Canutillo Independent School District will launch a pre-kindergarten Montessori program later this month, making it the first district in the county to offer a public Montessori option.

Canutillo’s announcement comes as the neighboring school district of El Paso is also working to open a Montessori program by next school year.

“We are always here to provide choices and direct our educational opportunities for our children in our communities,” Superintendent Pedro Galaviz said Wednesday at a press conference that coincided with Maria Montessori’s 152nd birthday.

Montessori created the child-centered method of education that focuses on independent, hands-on learning in the early 1900s. It has grown in popularity in recent decades as more public school districts open their own Montessori schools.

Texas is one of the states with the most public Montessori schools, according to the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. Districts such as Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin all offer Montessori, which until now was only available at private schools in El Paso.

Canutillo ISD is starting small — its pre-K3 Montessori program will only be open to 11 students, a number that could increase slightly depending on interest, said Jesica Arellano, executive director of the program and instruction. The free, bilingual program will be hosted at Gonzalo & Sofia Garcia Elementary School. Admission will be by interview. Although open to all 3-year-olds, priority will be given to those who live within the neighborhood boundaries.

The program officially begins on September 19.

Canutillo ISD Superintendent Pedro Galaviz presents a cake to kindergarten students at Garcia Elementary School to celebrate Maria Montessori’s 152nd birthday on Wednesday, August 31. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Montessori classes are co-ed, and over the next few school years Canutillo’s program will expand to include 3, 4 and 5 year olds. Eventually, Arellano plans to have classrooms of older elementary students.

“We eventually want to have a Montessori on every elementary campus,” she said.

In Texas, public Montessori students receive the same grade level standards as those in a traditional public school classroom, and they take the same standardized tests.

Montessori teachers, called “guides”, must be certified Montessori by an accredited training center. This training can last between one and two years.

Since most Montessori schools are private, it can be difficult for public schools to find both Montessori and Texas certified teachers. Canutillo uses its status as an innovation district to hire teachers who are not state-certified. This status allows districts to opt out of certain state requirements regarding class size, school calendar, and teacher certification, which is intended to give them more local control over instruction.

Canutillo’s first two Montessori hires – Patricia Vasquez and Lorena Gutierrez-Quiroz – came from the private sector.

Patricia Vasquez, left, and Lorena Gutierrez will be the bilingual Montessori-certified “guides” at Garcia Elementary, where they will teach the first cohort of pre-K students. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

In addition to hiring teachers from outside the district, Canutillo will cover certification fees for interested district teachers. Montessori teachers, regardless of state certification, will be on the same pay scale as other teachers.

“This transition from private to public is a huge opportunity for the whole city of El Paso,” said Vasquez, who has taught Montessori schools in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. “It’s the story of the Montessori movement and El Paso.”

Canutillo ISD will host an orientation for parents who wish to learn more about and enroll in its pre-K3 bilingual Montessori program on Tuesday, September 13 at 5 p.m. at Garcia Elementary, 6550 Westside Drive. For more information, contact the school at 915-877-1200 or email [email protected]

To be eligible for the program, students must be 3 years old by September 1, toilet trained, have basic communication skills, and be able to dress independently.

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