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Is Armatage School the Best in Minneapolis?

Elementary beat out nearest competitor by 20 points on state report card.

At the start of this school year, Armatage Montessori got some great news. By one measure, they're the best school in Minneapolis.

The school scored 96.57 percent on its Multiple Measurement Rating, a new state yardstick for measuring not only how well students did on last year's standardized tests, but how quickly its low-performing students are catching up to their peers. That's the highest out of all Minneapolis Public Schools—the next-closest school was Lake Harriet Upper Campus with 76.2 percent, and the closest elementary school was Kenny Community School with 74.12 percent.

While only 25 percent of Armatage's students receive free or reduced-price lunch—typically, the students who don't do as well on standardized tests—the school received high marks for closing the achievement gap between those students and affluent white students.

Principal Joan Franks told Patch that the secret to her teachers' success, she thinks, is the school's stability and its careful monitoring of student growth.

The school has few families and teachers leave every year, and Franks herself has been at the school for over a decade. The overall effect is to create a practiced team, she said, that quickly acculturated new students to the school's high expectations and culture of "personal responsibility." It's a culture at the heart of the school's Montessori educational philosophy.

"If you come to class unprepared, that's the exception rather than the rule," Franks said. "The teacher will provide some guidance, and give the student some way to fix the problem, but it's still the student's responsibility."

This hard-core focus on mature behavior is quickly evident if you take a stroll through Armatage's classrooms and hallways. While the teacher kneels at a cluster of kid-sized tables in one corner of the room giving a specialized lesson to 12 students, the room hums with the quiet sound neurons firing, as the remaining 20 diligently and independently work on homework and classwork at desks scattered throughout the room. Some even crouch in the hallway outside, piecing together a timeline of dinosaur evolution. 

When one of those students seems to start slipping, Franks said, or when they don't seem to really understand a particular lesson, they'll show up in weekly meetings the school's faculty has to discuss student learning data. According to Franks, those meetings are not just designed to identify students who are falling behind, but help teachers puzzle out extra lessons or other "interventions" they can offer the kids who need them.

"Our philosophy is that all kids can learn," Franks said, "All kids are capable if we support them and they take responsibility for their learning."

Armatage's successful model could be hard for the Minneapolis Public Schools to replicate, though. Each Montessori teacher goes through an additional $15,000 worth of training to learn the unique skills that Montessori teachers use to lead their classrooms, practically giving them a second master's degree. 

margaret richardson September 17, 2012 at 12:46 PM
What does it take to close the gap and meet the needs of high achieving students? A principal who leads, collaborates and supports a stable group of skilled and dedicated teachers. A school that identifies students who are at risk and implements targeted, research-based interventions to assist students in reaching mastery of academic material. A stable school of students who understand that learning is their responsibility (that's very Montessori) and are intrinsically (not externally) motivated to do their best. I believe the success can be attributed to the Montessori model/training paired with a skilled leader, dedicated teachers and having most of their students from K through 5th grade. High achieving students are met at their academic level and allowed to move beyond grade level standards even if it presents a "problem" for the next year's teacher. (imagine that, a problem of learning to much and moving too fast!) Great job Armatage! My children received an exceptional education there.
Jane Scruggs September 17, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I find it unfortunate that this journalist seems to think that schools should be competing against each other. Schools exist to educate and educate well. No more, no less. They do not need to compete against each other; in fact, really good schools work in support of each other to help all students succeed.
Mindy Johnson September 26, 2012 at 07:19 PM
A Montessouri-style school is no better able to help children/families own responsibility for learning than any other. For example, International Baccalaureate schools have as basic principle that individuals take responsibility in a global world. And, the IB instruction for those teacher is perhaps equally expensive for the district. I hazzard to guess that the key here is the fact that this school is in fact RESOURCE RICH in that the student body walks in the door having their basic needs met. What children do live in poverty have more of the teacher's attention and resources because there are relatively few of them in comparison to nearly every other school in the district. Maybe a rebalancing of those resources makes the most sense, so every child has equal advantage in the district? After all, that is what desegretation is about.

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