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The Alliance for Equity in Montessori Education

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

In June, the Portfolio Management Team launched two new community partnerships, Preschool for All Washington County and the Alliance for Equity in Montessori Education.

Partnership Overview

Our partnership with the Alliance for Equity in Montessori Education (AEME) will include a $15k general operating grant and Partner time. AEME appreciates SVP’s general operating grant (rather than restricted) so that it can use the financial resources to invest in key aspects of running the organization well, such as DEI training, fundraising & grant writing, and staffing for community/parent engagement. Partners will work with AEME to achieve its vision by assisting with developing a strategy timeline, board governance, business model & financing, operational policies, and marketing.

Lead Partner Steve Maser provides greater context, “SVP will get back more than it gives: this partnership provides an excellent opportunity for SVP Partners to apply their financial and, more significantly, human capital while advancing their personal journeys in philanthropy–building their areas of expertise, learning about startups & early childhood education, and promoting equity.” 

AEME Preschool Program & History

AEME was created to provide a stable home for the Alder Montessori School, a preschool operating successfully at Alder Elementary School in the Reynolds School District for the past five years. The initial host, Montessori Northwest, which trains Montessori teachers, decided that hosting the school was not central to its mission. The second host, the Lewis and Clark Charter School, decided to go in a different direction. The co-founders of Alder Montessori, one of whom was Greater Than, wanted to assure the continuation of a program that provides high-quality, low/no-cost, early childhood education to diverse families in an under-resourced neighborhood. With AEME in place as host, the founders realized that they had a model they might replicate and scale.

Vision for Growth

Unique in the nation with its intention to achieve social justice, equity, and educational goals by partnering with public elementary schools as a Montessori provider, AEME wants to locate in 3-5 additional public elementary schools. The public school provides space, transportation, nutrition, behavioral support access, and hopefully additional funding or dedicated education staff members. AEME helps to write grants to fund startup and ongoing operational costs; recruits, orients, and supports the education team of teachers and assistants,;provides the curriculum for preschool through kindergarten; and operates the Montessori school in full partnership with the elementary school principal & admin team, and in collaboration with the district.  

AEME’s Board Chair, Mark Langseth, the President and CEO of Greater Than, describes AEME’s vision in these terms: “Importantly, AEME centers racial equity in all of our work, given the profound impact that racism has on the opportunity gap throughout the preK to college educational journey for students of color.  We know that high-quality preK can have a profound influence on a student’s success in K-12 and post-secondary education.  We believe that Montessori, with its exceptional longitudinal research-backed methodology and results, should be available to many more school districts as they contemplate high quality, research-based preK options.”

Challenges to Growth & Opportunities for Collaboration

Like any startup with a successful product or service, AEME faces challenges. For example, it needs to decide upon a business model and processes for implementing it that will allow AEME and each new AEME Montessori school to be financially sustainable. Second, it will need to secure resources to support students who have experienced traumas which may be impacting their ability to flourish; that might entail more closely involving school counselors or ensuring Montessori teachers have trauma-informed training. Third, it needs to create a process for engaging parents systematically and continuously through the course of a child’s participation in its programs. Fourth, Oregon does not recognize Montessori training as the basis for licensing a classroom kindergarten teacher; securing that recognition would advance AEME’s mission. Finally, after creating 3-5 more preschool programs as a basis for understanding what works and what doesn’t, AEME wishes to create a technical support function that will educate, train, and advise public school administrators who wish to launch and operate Montessori preschools. How broad and deep is the market for that service? 

In effect, AEME is a startup with a proof of concept. With its focus on preschool and vision for equity, it is ideally suited for a capacity-building partnership with SVP.  As Liora Berry, AEME’s Executive Director, sees it: “SVP has a deep wealth of expertise that is vital to achieving AEME’s mission.  We believe Montessori is the perfect preschool partner for public school systems.  Montessori has a great system to train teachers, a strong research-based foundation with a child-centered and child development-based educational approach, along with specialized hands-on educational materials for young children. Together, SVP and AEME can create true, equitable educational access for children and families who, due to financial, racial, language & social inequities, struggle to secure early childhood education, especially programs co-located at their neighborhood elementary school.”

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