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Benson column:Montessori is one of 4 RF public elementary schools

The School District of River Falls has four elementary schools—Montessori, Greenwood, Westside, and Rocky Branch. All four are public schools; although the River Falls Public

Montessori Elementary (RFPME) is a "charter" school, it should not be confused with other

private charter schools in Wisconsin. Specifically, there are no parent vouchers to pay for tuition

and the ultimate governing authority for RFPME is the locally elected Board of Education.

Simply put, RFPME is a public choice that is funded by public dollars. In other words, parents

who want their child to attend RFPME are making that choice largely based on their knowledge

of how the Montessori teaching and learning methods are a bit different than our other three "traditional" elementary schools.

RFPME started as a pilot; an experiment; a trial—to see if parents wanted that option and to see if students would embrace that style of learning. Originally there were about 40 students but the school has now grown to 185 pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

If there were no RFPME in existence, those same 185 students would need to attend one of our

other three elementary schools—which could not absorb those students without significant

additional classrooms to accommodate the rise in enrollment.

Obviously the trial run has proven to be quite successful largely due to some instructional and

program differences that appeal to parents. A few examples that once set Montessori apart from

traditional elementary methods are things such as hands-on math manipulatives, integrated

geography, social studies and science curriculums, individual and small group workstations, and

a significant amount of student movement throughout classroom activities. Music and art is

integrated into the curriculum taught by the regular classroom teacher.

Compared to the elementary school that I attended, there are many more similarities between

Montessori methods and "traditional" elementary schools of today.

Students at the RFPME take the same state exams as elementary students throughout our district; the teachers are all evaluated under the same state mandated evaluation system; the school is rated by the same state accountability system (state report cards); and the curriculums are aligned to the same standards as our other elementary schools. Accountability is required in equal measures at all four of our elementary schools.

The School District of River Falls, innovative leader in personalized learning, ensures the development of every student's unique potential in order to excel as responsible, productive, global citizens, facilitated by forward-thinking staff in a safe, nurturing, and collaborative environment.

RFPME has a Site Council consisting of parents, a School Board member, and administration.

The Site Council functions somewhat like a PTO at other schools as they coordinate volunteerism, fundraisers, advocacy for programs, and advance improvements at the school.

Character initiatives are part of their learning activities. They have a "United Nations" leadership academy for students. They hold family nights and chili cook-offs. RFPME encompasses the same educational values and utilizes many of the same educational strategies as all of our schools.

One unique difference is that students are placed in multi-age classrooms so there are PK +

Kindergartners together (Children's House); grades 1-3 together (Lower Elementary); and grades 4-6 together (Upper Elementary) which allows for students to learn and mentor at times

with each other.

There are no special RFPME funding programs from the state nor from the district that is any

different than all of our local public schools. Class size average at RFPME is about 21 students

vs. the class size average of 23 at the other three elementary schools.

In summary, is RFPME a bit of a different instructional approach to "how we do school?" Yes,

however, there are far more similarities with our other three elementary schools than there are


Our district is proud of ALL of our four elementary schools, their faculty and staff, parents, and

of course, our students. We are blessed to have a community that supports creativity, innovation, and various options for all students to learn, play, and grow in schools that hold high

expectations and supreme learning opportunities.

If you ever have questions about any of our schools, please feel free to contact me at any time.