Dear City Garden Families,
Some of you have recently expressed concerns about staff turnover at City Garden. I want you to know that I hear your concerns, and I want to share some reflections regarding this issue.
Staffing is one of the most important aspects of any organization, business, or group committed to a strong mission. Here at City Garden, we take the responsibility of staffing extremely seriously, as we are not only supporting the organization in meeting mission and vision, we are also staffing so that our children have the right people guiding them each day. We are staffing so that we can meet high standards, offer a high quality public Montessori education, and meet our rigorous hiring practices.
Our teaching structure supports our staffing standards. The teaching structure here is organized so that the Lead Guides are responsible for delivering the curriculum. The Assistant Guides are assistants to the Lead. They are charged with protecting the teacher’s teaching time, monitoring the classroom and ensuring that learning materials are readily available. Our Assistant Guides are not expected to have Montessori certification or teaching certification, as they are not responsible for delivering instruction to our children.
Our staffing structure for Lead Guides has changed over the years. As a Montessori school, the Montessori Theory of Development is our educational methodology by which we guide our children. City Garden is also a public school and this means we are also academically accountable to the Missouri Learning Standards. What this means for our lead guide staffing is that our Lead Guides must earn state certification and Montessori certification. Missouri and other states across the U.S. are experiencing a shortage of state-certified teachers. Though we strive to make our salaries competitive with other districts, if a teacher has been in another district or school for more than a few years, it is nearly impossible for City Garden to match his or her salary. There are also no institutions here in St. Louis that offer elementary Montessori certification, which means that there are very few elementary Montessori teachers in our region.
We have invested in a number of strategies to find great teachers and to support them in obtaining both Montessori certification and state certification. Thus far, we have partnered with out of state organizations for teachers to obtain their Montessori certification. However, we have recognized that even the high-quality Montessori training centers do not fully prepare teachers to implement Montessori here at City Garden—a public school setting that is committed to anti-bias, anti-racism. Montessori training centers generally prepare teachers to implement Montessori in mostly White, affluent, private school settings. We are currently working with the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, Montessori for All (a charter school in Austin, Texas) and Libertas Montessori (a charter school in Memphis, Tennessee) to design a Montessori training center that will train and support teachers to implement Montessori in diverse public school settings that are committed to equity. City Garden will be a training site and will have teacher residents in our classrooms. We are working hard to launch this training program as early as this summer, and our hope is that several of our teachers and assistant guides will participate in the first cohort. Establishing this training program will allow us to develop a robust “pipeline” of teachers, which will alleviate many challenges.
For our Assistant Guides, our model has been designed so that they begin their journey as one of learning more about the Montessori Theory of Development. It is our hope that Assistant Guides ultimately become a Lead Guide (either at City Garden or elsewhere) by either completing their Montessori certification or state certification while they serve as an assistant. Occasionally, Assistant Guides work with us for a short time as they make decisions about pursuing the field of education or other careers. We understand that they may only be with us for a short time. Thus, their movement is anticipated even while their role is critical to supporting our classrooms as we strive to reach our goals of fidelity to Montessori and maintaining very high standards for all students.
All schools experience staff turnover, as does City Garden. Though our turnover rate is higher than we would like it to be, it is not outside the norm in comparison to other public schools, and has been stable in its percentage over the past three years.
My commitment to you and your family is to provide your child the best education possible, and to hire and retain the best possible staff to work with all of our children. The board, Christie and our entire team are all very aware of the challenges we face in regards to finding and retaining excellent teachers. We are working to create lasting systemic solutions to these challenges. We will continue to strengthen our practices around staffing as we deepen our commitment to providing your family with an excellent educational experience.
Dr. Nicole Evans