A private education primer 

Getting Schooled

Those who don’t know that a dozen or so distinct private schools are educating children not enrolled in Missoula’s public school system aren’t alone.

Even Kevin Chick, dean of students at the long-established Catholic school St. Joseph Elementary, says he wasn’t aware until recently of the number and variety of burgeoning independent schools in town.

Nine of those schools are teaming up Jan. 18 to host an Independent Schools Night, and school leaders say the event is a first step toward increasing collaboration among private schools. Educational approaches represented at the event will include religious, progressive, Montessori, “place-based” and Spanish language immersion programs.

Sussex School’s Barry Grant, who’s helping organize the event, says, “The idea is for people to drop in and get a rather quick sense of the variety of schools in the area.” Teachers, parents, administrators and students from all nine schools will be on hand to answer questions like, “What is a place-based education approach?”

Clark Fork School Board President Erin Yonce explains that her school, which began 25 years ago as a parent cooperative, offers a “holistic” teaching style that relies heavily on the local natural environment, hence the “place-based” stamp.

Discussions with half of the schools scheduled to take part find that all say they’re steadily growing and many have begun casting around for more space to accommodate anticipated growth.

Yonce says she hopes Independent Schools Night, which will be held at the Doubletree Hotel at 100 Madison St. from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, may herald closer communication among the private schools and potential collaboration on issues like substitute teacher pools, advertising or even health care for school staff.

“I think there’s certainly room for a whole lot of different education options in Missoula, and I think there are plenty of opportunities for cooperation,” Yonce says. “Everyone can benefit from each other’s knowledge and styles.”

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