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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Towles Intermediate School will shift its upper grades to a New Tech program next year.

Towles’ changes anger some parents

FWCS shifting middle school from Montessori to New Tech

– Some parents say they were blindsided by Fort Wayne Community Schools’ changes at Towles Intermediate School that would alter the magnet program for some students.

Beginning next year, seventh- and eighth-grade students will move into a New Tech magnet program instead of the Montessori program that has been offered at Towles – formerly Geyer Middle School – since 2006.

“No one’s radar was up that this was in the works,” parent Susan Stahl said.

Stahl and other parents learned about the changes during a parent teacher association meeting Wednesday night that included a presentation from Pamela Musick, elementary area administrator who oversees the Montessori programs at Bunche Montessori Early Childhood Center and Towles. Montessori is an approach to education that emphasizes hands-on learning, independence and students learning at their own pace. Montessori classrooms are set up differently than traditional ones and use specialized learning materials.

The New Tech program has been a popular option for high school students in the district. It offers a project-based learning approach integrated with one-to-one computing technology.

District spokeswoman Krista Stockman said Superintendent Wendy Robinson met with a small group of parents to discuss possible changes about a month ago. The parent group was advocating that the district start a Montessori high school but was told that wasn’t a feasible option for the district.

Stahl, who attended the meeting with Robinson and other central office administrators, said parents were under the impression that just the high school Towles feeds into would change. Currently, Towles feeds into South Side High School but will now feed into the New Tech Academy at Wayne High School.

The staff at Towles was also notified of the changes about a month ago, Stockman said. The decision was never approved by the district’s board because it wasn’t required, but members knew that changes were taking place, she said.

The move is part of the district’s evaluation of its programs and feeder systems to focus on providing families with the most attractive options possible, Stockman said. This is part of a larger plan for the district to remain competitive with other educational options like vouchers and charter schools.

Interest in the Montessori program drops off in middle school, as some students return to their assigned schools near their homes so they can eventually attend high schools that their middle schools feed into, Stockman said. The district’s magnet schools have no residency boundaries, and families from across the district apply to attend schools with magnet programs, including Towles.

Stockman said current or new teachers who will staff the program next year will be trained this summer in the New Tech program, which has many similarities to the Montessori philosophy of teaching.

“There are a lot of kids from Towles who go to New Tech now. It’s a good transition for them and fits with how they learned for the years they were in the Montessori program,” she said. “We felt that this was a good fit.”

Many parents have been outspoken about the fact that they don’t feel the same way.

“Fort Wayne Community Schools just bamboozled everybody,” said Scott Haney, whose daughter will be a seventh-grader at Towles next year. “They really ticked off a lot of people.”

He said parents have already signed letters of intent to return, which basically binds them to send their students back to Towles. Because the district’s magnet programs often have waiting lists, any open slots are filled through a lottery, which has already taken place.

“We all feel like we’ve been slapped in the face,” said Stahl, who has been active at both Towles and Bunche, the preschool and kindergarten Montessori program. She is also an advocate for the district and public education because of the strength and quality of options at FWCS. She said she saw the district as an ally but now has lost trust.

She’s hoping the district reconsiders. Haney said he would like to see more of a blended model of the Montessori and New Tech programs. Several other parents have been commenting on the district’s Facebook page, expressing their disappointment about the changes, to which the district has responded that much thought was put into the decision and more information is still to come.

Stockman said many details are still up in the air. At a recent meeting, the board approved the district to move forward with a $12 million grant application for the district’s magnet programs. She said Towles was included in the application. If FWCS is awarded the grant from the U.S. Department of Education, it would likely use some of the funding to train teachers this summer and purchase technology for the new program at Towles.

“We’ll be moving forward regardless, but the grant would help,” she said.