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.