Kansas City Public Schools is investing in its teachers with a first-of-its-kind Montessori training program at Holliday.
Montessori is an education philosophy that encourages learning in a child-centered environment. Association of Montessori Internationale (AMI) certification requires rigorous training that typically takes three consecutive summers.
But this year, 22 teachers will receive training in partnership with the Montessori Training Center Institute of Northeast (MTCNE). The one year program will help get more Montessori-certified educators into classrooms during a national teacher shortage. Some of the teachers have come to Kansas City from other states and countries, including China and Nepal.
Just as importantly, 13 teachers from KCPS will train this year and then teach at Border Star and Holliday, building the district’s bench of Montessori-trained educators.
“This is a historical moment for KCPS,” said Principal KaLinda Bass-Barlow. “We are making a tremendous investment in Montessori education by paying employees a full teacher’s salary to attend this training that goes along with our trauma-informed practices.”
Mrs. Bass-Barlow knows firsthand the challenges that come with seeking Montessori certification. She came to Holliday seven years ago as a “traditional” principal without a Montessori background. At the time, Holliday had few trained Montessori teachers.
But Ms. Bass-Barlow lobbied hard to get more teachers certified, and she spent three summers in Dallas training alongside her staff. Today, she is principal of both Holliday and Border Star, as well as board chair of AMI/USA. For years, her refrain has been, “Without trained teachers, we don’t have Montessori, we have Monti-something.”
Still, there had to be a way to train teachers that didn’t involve asking them to give up three summers with their families. Mrs. Bass Barlow thought, what if KCPS hosted AMI training for its teachers at Holliday, a school purpose-built for Montessori education?
From the beginning, Interim Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier promised Ms. Bass-Barlow’s idea. Dr. Collier knew what it was like to lead a Montessori school as a traditional principal. She faced many of the same challenges when she went to lead Border Star in 2012.
“Year after year, we dealt with not having trained teachers,” Dr. Collier said. “I understood how important it was for us to provide this kind of opportunity, ultimately for our children.”
At an opening reception for the new training program at Holliday, Dr. Collier commended Ms. Bass-Barlow for her courage.
“Yes, she will push to get things done,” Dr. Collier said, “but I believe the greatest things happen in life when people push, when they ask for things we haven’t heard of before.”
A new model
One of the teachers Ms. Bass-Barlow recruited for the Montessori training program was Sarah Rose Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds began teaching during the pandemic.
“I was a traditional teacher at a magnet school in Connecticut. Post-COVID, I spent so much time on social-emotional skills. So many of my kids were so dysregulated,” Ms. Reynolds said. “My interest in child development led me to Montessori.”
Mrs. Reynolds began researching one-year Montessori training programs, most of which were so intensive she’d have to give up her job. She thought she could find a district to sponsor her, but as a young teacher, could she really afford to live without an income for a year?
That’s what makes the Holliday program unique. KCPS employees receive their salary while training, in exchange for a four-year teaching commitment.
“Right now, there’s a teacher shortage, a national crisis,” AMI/USA Executive Director Dr. Ayize Sabater said. “For a district to invest by building the bench so the children have the experts in the classroom that they need is visionary. This helps to set a model for what other districts across the nation might be able to do.”
Mrs. Reynolds had never been to Kansas City, but her mother grew up here. Getting accepted into the Holliday training program felt like fate.
“I fell in love with Holliday when I visited,” Ms. Reynolds said. “Now I get to train here knowing my classroom is right down the hall.”