"School of the Woods" vs. "Post Oak School" - Montessori schools (Houston: daycares, home)
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Thanks for your comments and feedback! It is really invaluable, because you wouldn't hear anything other than puppy love to school's methods and teachers when you are on a SOTW parking lot. I wish some inside info was available to me couple of years ago.
Bravo! I feel exactly the same way. Where was this discussion when we were tossing a coin on whether to leave School of the Woods after middle school? This site and great schools would have EASILY made the decision for us. For those parents still not convinced, I want to offer some "empirical" evidence that not all is right with the school.
Here's the $64,000 question. Where's the new campus? Why has it been 13 years and no new high school or even a school-wide gym? In the meantime, high school operates out of two small, single family homes built in 1960 (7806 Bobbitt Ln, Houston, TX 77055 - Zillow)
Within the last six months, School of the Woods sold their 2002 land and purchased the two 1960s houses and land adjacent to it. A first grader's parents in 2001, who made yearly donations to the capital campaign, will have their teen graduate tomorrow never seeing a new gym or a new high school building.
There is a reason for no high school. There is a reason high school is taught in two small houses. And here's the kicker – School of the Wood consistently graduates only 20 seniors each year – like for the last decade!!
American Montessori Society hails School of the Woods as one of the best in the United States. They have bestowed a "Living Legacy" award on the principal. Why is the school not a cathedral with hundreds of seniors? Why no student growth and not even enough support from existing parents to build a new gym? Something does not add up.
I have a couple of kids at SOTW and I am on the fence about the school. However, I can say
if you can get your child into the "full day" class, jump at it. The teachers are incredible!!! They are so on top of the children and their needs, it is worth every dime. I love!!!!!!!!!!! those teachers. Every time I walk into the class and see the activities and the knowledge my child is gaining, I thank God for them. The true Montessori experience is only achieved in that class.
My daughter is now finishing pre-k and already read a Pinkalicious book from front to back with a couple of mistakes. She knows where her kidneys are, knows about animals and her phonics reading is awesome.
I am however not sure about the school after early childhood. I have a wait and see attitude as to what will happen with her brothers who are older than her.
The thing I think that could improve the school is if administration was open to communicating with parents. Often you call and you never receive a phone call back despite leaving several messages. Emails can go unanswered as well. Getting information is the hardest part except as I stated above the full day class.
Sorry I keep feeling the need to reply to every post! This is such an important conversation and each post inspires me to keep going with information/opinion sharing.
I am beyond impressed with early Montessori. It is nothing short of a miracle! I think every kid in America should experience it. We all think back to our favorite teachers. I think parents reflect too. And our #1 experience was 18 months. All the later awards, honor classes, report cards, athletic accomplishments, and our favorite period is still 18-24 months. Just awesome!
The key to this awesomeness is that you can go from a Montessori school in Oregon to one in Boston and it's exactly the same before age 6. Pink tower, beads, the mats, the works, birthday celebrations, you name it… exactly the same.
But something happens at six years old. We lose the great (am I mean it) Maria Montessori. The world is left to figure out how a pink tower translates into guessing whether Maria would approve of Saxon textbooks. Now you go from a Montessori school in one part of Houston to another part of Houston and it's completely different! Administrators are interpreting as they go.
This is a very subtle point and hard to detect. First grade will be an extension of Maria's teachings. Second grade, tiny bit less. After a while, it's anything goes. By middle school, you are not "buying" Maria Montessori. You are buying the principal's interpretation. Note in this screen capture (http://i43.tinypic.com/2rr47rc.jpg), the principal is a "program designer." And this is not a typo. Other schools will reference that School of the Woods is a Montessori "refiner and developer." (http://i43.tinypic.com/2w4l8jm.jpg) If this is Montessori, why does it need design?
This gets a lot worse. It's not enough to design, they redesign CONSTANTLY. Study hall for 4 hours on a Friday. No, let's do two hours Tuesday and Thursday. Two teachers in a class. No, one. The kids have whiplash! And all I keep asking myself is after 10+ years, can they not settle on a design? Pick one and practice it until they get it right?
What's remarkable is that all of this experimentation feeds Powerpoint decks that are presented at school after school as the Montessori Way. But look closely at these presentations. Here is an example School of the Woods slide (http://i40.tinypic.com/35i53jd.png) A quick search of amshq.org nets no results for Hazen, Trefil, University of Pittsburgh and just a few mentions of ASCD. It's not just an experiment, it's a localized experiment!
I am really not whining (I hope?!). This is really serious. Schools can't come up with a new design every year. And the changes overwhelm teachers, students, parents, you name it. My advice? Leave after the 3-6 program. You are in incredible shape to go anywhere and lock your child in for a long time at a great school. If you are still thinking School of the Woods, visit every Montessori school in Houston and call others. Ask about math books, how grammar is taught, how the day is structured, etc. If you call 5 schools, you will get 5 answers. I think Maria Montessori would be very sad at what's happened to her teachings.
By the School of the Woods that is where I'll be, will you pardon me, and please come tiptoe through the tulips with me. Exactly, what has and is the relationship between SOTW and Montessori... Furthermore, I noticed that SOTW has launched a full frontal and a conspiratorial (how else can they explain 2 five star identical, verbatim reviews from 2 different and independent? writers) attack on "greatschools" website. This is the very same site that without doubt deleted 1 star (lowest ranked) reviews thus assisting SOTW maintain its mediocre 3 star (out of 5) ranking. Should have sought assistance from their much heralded computer/internet/technology department that year after year produces straight "A" students who magically earn? the exact numerical grade, and yet no one has been able to locate a classroom, a teacher, a book, or even a faint recollection by a student to have factually ever signed up, let alone, receive any instruction in this modern lifestyle.
Hey SOTW, it ain't no fun when the wabbit got the gun?
You are on a roll. I feel like I am always a day late and a step behind you! Once again, if I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would never believe it! School of the Woods is posting 5 star reviews (http://i41.tinypic.com/a9w7yp.png) themselves and saying that the entire internet, including social media, falls under their terms and conditions. Great Schools manages reviews for over 90,000 schools and I bet you $1000 there is only one school in that 90,000 with the arrogance to think they can control a third party review site.
It never takes more than a little poking around to figure out the truth (see middle school teacher post). This is a screen cap (http://i39.tinypic.com/2cs6fjd.png) from the 2011-12 student handbook. School of the Woods "integrates" computers into the overall curriculum and then issues a full year credit. The reviewer is right. There is no single teacher. No homework. No exams. No computer lab. In essence, it's high school credit for using Microsoft Word in your English class. The notion of getting transcript credit for using a skill in another class is unprecedented. It's like getting a speech credit because you made a presentation in Chemistry!
In the same handbook, they make it clear how they feel about computers in general (http://i42.tinypic.com/2vjbpg8.jpg). Compare this to the 16 different computer classes the nearby (public!) high school offers (http://i40.tinypic.com/zjaxjr.jpg) And I promise you, each of those classes has a teacher and a meeting time. Not sure why this needs saying!?
Imagine you are a college admissions officer. You get this transcript (http://i40.tinypic.com/wkoheq.jpg). Do you think the student attended a computer class, had a computer teacher, had homework and exams? Of course! The same admissions officer raises a red flag that the student scored the EXACT same numerical grade every semester. And note the school forgot to issue a numerical grade for S2 in the freshman year.
This has to be the most unusual report card/transcript on the planet. Lawn games? For the Love of Learning? High school credit for a field trip? Junior College Prep? How does one get a .25 credit in a semester-based grading system? Does the class end in October? Speech I has a grade for S1 and S2 and issued 1.0 credit. Just under that, Health Education also issued grades for S1 and S2, but only granted .5 credit. Just above, World Cultures/Geo has a grade for only S1, but issued a full year credit. None of this inconsistency is lost on colleges. And keep in mind, this report card was hand selected (see AP exams/honors) for the handbook.
The State of Texas requires 26 credits to graduate high school (http://i41.tinypic.com/67mayw.png). As we all know, this requires a full-time schedule over 4 years. How does School of the Woods accomplish 34 credits (30% more) in the same 4 years (http://i39.tinypic.com/9tmon4.png). It's not because of a longer school year or summer school. In fact, I can make a strong case School of the Woods provides less instruction than the local public high school.
School starts on August 27th across Houston. Within 24 hours, SOTW HS is out for a full week http://i42.tinypic.com/dweuyo.jpg). In October, another week is spent away from the classroom (http://i43.tinypic.com/k3mxsk.jpg) Another in January (http://i40.tinypic.com/2yuczdg.png) right after the students get back from a two week break for Christmas. And another week in March, (http://i44.tinypic.com/2prgytt.png) right after spring break. That's ONE MONTH missing from a nine month academic year. No math problems, no biology, nothing. Let me be extremely clear. No math+ instruction for 1/9th of the academic year. So, how does this add up? 34 credits versus the Texas standard 26 and 4 fewer weeks each year to accomplish this goal?! And what impact do you think all this time away from the classroom has on SATs!!
It gets worse. One of the many "designs" implemented by the principal was a move to a MWF/TuTh college-like schedule. This means students only take math three days a week or two days a week. Public high school? 5 days a week and no extra month off…
Next. 151 Houston high schools offer AP classes (http://i44.tinypic.com/2j4txy0.png) School of the Woods does not (http://i42.tinypic.com/dwdout.png). I didn't know there were 150 high schools in Houston total! Most kids take AP for financial reasons (earned college credit). And we all know more selective colleges use AP for admissions purposes… not required, but nice to have. (http://i41.tinypic.com/2yxjaxg.png) A $100,000 SOTW education and this is what we get… "colleges look favorably on students who have the initiative to look for AP outside their regular classes."
School of the Woods will tell you that all classes are honors. Yet the H reported on the transcript is driven by whether you had to retake a test (http://i39.tinypic.com/b6zzgw.png). Is this one test? Is this all course tests? How many tests must you retake before it's decided that the H will not appear on your report card. The answer? Everyone gets an H, regardless of retests. The handbook even explains this policy results in a lot of A's and B's on report cards (http://i44.tinypic.com/2l9k1tk.png).
To all devoted School of the Woods parents… I get it. You love the school. Everyone has an opinion. Some parents can be especially hard to please. But isn't the evidence adding up? What exactly are your children getting for $100,000+? Even more important, what do your kids think when they read this. Are you failing them?
I was trying to help out with the requested college list and stumbled upon something that was so shocking I didn't want to post anything until I had a second source…
School of the Woods is no longer accredited by the American Montessori Society.
This is not just high school. This is the ENTIRE school… toddler to 12th grade! To show how utterly shocking this revelation is, indulge me for one second…
The principal is the American Montessori Society "Living Legacy" award recipient for 2008. She created the first American Montessori Society secondary education course for teachers in the United States. She holds an American Montessori Society credential in childhood, elementary, secondary and leadership levels. The principal has served on the American Montessori Society Board for 20 years, longer than anyone else. She has chaired three American Montessori Society Conferences. She is a frequent guest speaker on behalf of the American Montessori Society. She is a past American Montessori Society president.
And she runs an unaccredited Montessori school in Houston, Texas. Casual readers of this may say wow. SOTW parents and teachers are gasping. Fellow Montessori schools are imagining what it must take to LOSE the AMS accreditation. And I hope the two other accreditors are taking a closer look at this school and whether it deserves ANY accreditation after the school's own governing body dropped accreditation.
Montessori Life lists all accredited schools in the last few pages of each issue of the magazine. Between the magazine's Winter 2010 and Spring 2011 issue, School of the Woods was removed from the accredited list. They no longer appear in the magazine's list to this day, having been knocked back to member-only status.
School of the Woods own website confirms this change to member only. They went from this (http://i43.tinypic.com/vn06.png) to this (http://i41.tinypic.com/2zi0bhc.png). Personally, I think it says a lot that administrators displayed a simple mention of accreditation and then shifted to big bold letters when they became a member only… almost like they were playing up the member angle. But that's just me.
I went back to 2006, the earliest Montessori Life reporting accreditation lists in the magazine, and found only one other school in Texas that is no longer accredited. It was a Child Development Lab associated with a local college that merged with the YMCA. Cedar Park Montessori was removed in late 2009, but that was because they moved to AMI accreditation.
Speaking of AMI. Post Oak School is accredited by AMI, the international organization and one that is much stricter. And St. Stephen's Episcopal School is AMS accredited.
This really is stunning. I would bet money no teachers or parents were ever notified of this loss. The principal is about as decorated a Montessorian as they come. She trains future Montessori teachers. She tours the country like a celebrity. What must you do to lose accreditation? Not never had it… had it for 8 years and then LOST it!
Speaking of AMI. Post Oak School is accredited by AMI, the international organization and one that is much stricter. And St. Stephen's Episcopal School is AMS accredited.
Actually Post Oak isn't accredited by AMI either, they were on probation for a while and just lost it this year. They have a few lead teachers (1 is the Head of School's wife) who aren't AMI trained or certified as well.
Another issue with Post Oak is they don't deal with the whole bullying issue and there is zero discipline. What do you think should happen to a student who brings a knife to school and holds it up to his classmate's throat during recess??? Or that same student slaps a younger girl across the face unprovoked? He wasn't suspended or sent home. No consequences for his actions.
Wow on Post Oak! While my focus has been on School of the Woods, I did take a peek at the AMI website and saw this (http://i42.tinypic.com/qoekwg.jpg) and even Post Oak mentions it on their website (http://i41.tinypic.com/2njhkj6.jpg). Guess no one has updated the web yet! No surprise. SOTW had AMS accreditation on their site for 6 months after losing it.
We were totally duped by the lure of a small school. It's safe, it's family, small teacher student ratio, etc. Imagine a town of 300 people in West Texas. A bad apple (drugs, weapons, bullying) moves into this small town. The entire town is affected. You can't escape the bad influence. This is exactly what happens in small schools. Students don't see this bad apple in a single class. They see him/her in every class!
And we were equally duped by Montessori. They "preyed" on our experience pre-K and told us it would only get better. But something interesting happened during my Montessori Life research. I went through 40+ back issues by hand. For every picture of an adolescent in the magazine, there are 100+ of a child under 6 years old.
This is easy to confirm. I used the ERIC database for most of my initial (non-library) research. There are 445 articles indexed across the entire magazine (search here). A search for high school drops it to 13 articles (here) and middle school to 21 (here). Less than 7% of the written material in the magazine appears to be about secondary education and most articles are from a special issue in 2003.
I think it says something about Montessori in the United States that the governing body spends so little time/energy writing about secondary education.
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