Head teachers at Sedona Charter School can list a slew of reasons why the school earned the state’s highest label this year.
According to Business Administrator Alice Madar, this is the school’s third “excelling” label.
The school, located in West Sedona, was built in 2001 as a Montessori-based school.
During its first two years, the state labeled it “too small,” to earn a state report card. Since then, the 150-student school has earned three “excelling” labels and one “highly performing.”
Montessori practices believe that children naturally gravitate toward children about their own age, but not limited to their exact age, so classrooms are broken down first through third grades, fourth though sixth grades, and seventh and eighth grades.
“The learning is individualized,” lower elementary principal educator Bob Wentsch explained of the school’s success. “Whether something comes easy or difficult, they have the time they need. Even before ‘No Child Left Behind,’ we had no child left behind.”
Upper elementary head educator Marsha Johnson agreed.
“We individualize and we work toward mastery of everything,” Johnson said. “It needs to be mastered before we move on to something else.”
In addition to working on the state standards, Jon Anderson, principal educator for grades seventh and eight, adds a lot of extras to engage the students’ curiosities, he said, rather than dictate to the students what they will be interested in.
Although the state’s standardized tests are important for the school and the state’s report card, Anderson doesn’t focus solely on prepping for those tests.
“We don’t have such a hyper focus on test prep and constantly drill for tests,” he said. “It makes for happier kids. That’s part of the reason we do so well.”
Montessori education focuses on physical and mental needs of children, not just academic, so the teachers work on character development and students volunteer around the community, Anderson said.
According to Johnson, students at the charter school remain in the same classroom for three years, so the three teachers assigned to each classroom really get to know them and their learning needs.
“It’s a safe and nurturing environment. That’s when brains learn best,” she said.
It also helps that the school keeps its teacher-student ratio at one teacher per every 15 students, Wentsch said.
The three classrooms at the school are set up to allow children to sit where they want and communicate with each other.
The older children of each of the three divisions naturally tend to teach the younger ones.
“Maria Montessori was an observer of children,” Johnson said. “She saw that kids this age are very social, so we try to use that socialization so they can talk to each other and teach each other.”
Madar summed up the school’s success by crediting two things.
“The students are engaged in their learning and our teachers are totally dedicated,” she said.