New leaders at Pathfinder, Montessori
One of the school’s is in its 40th year and the other employs an approach adopted by Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. Both have new administrators this fall.
Robert Hansen is head of school at Pathfinder in Greilickville and Connie Laufersky serves as his counterpart at the Leelanau Montessori Public School Academy. Both became involved in their respective career fields through their children.
“As parents, we wanted our son to attend (Pathfinder) and we moved here so he could do it,” Hansen said. “We built our lives around this school.”
The Hansens learned about Pathfinder and the family moved north, where he secured a teaching position at Northport. Eventually Hansen moved on to the Intermediate School District, where he worked as an instructional consultant.
“I’ve been involved in the school as a parent, a volunteer, as a consultant, board member and now as head of school,” he said.
Pathfinder’s “project based” learning system sets it apart from the more traditional approach taken at state public schools.
“As an independent school we are free from some of the legislative mandates which tell schools not only what and how to teach, but the pace at which it should be done,” said Hansen, adding these mandates can result in a negative effect on learning. “We’re all about local control and are responsible to our board, our students and our parents.”
The school was formed in 1972 and became affiliated with Interlochen Arts Academy in 2002. This alliance was discontinued in 2007, however the school continues to encourage the arts.
Creativity is one of the four “Cs” on which there is a focus at Pathfinder. The others are: critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
Providing options to students fosters self-advocacy in the learners.
“They are invested in their education and demand a lot,” Hansen said. “We see that in the spring when different schools come in to recruit students who will be entering ninth grade the following fall.”
He expects about 100 students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade when classes resume next Wednesday, Sept. 5.
Laufersky became acquainted with Montessori education while living downstate.
“I was working fulltime and was exploring preschool options for my children when I learned about Montessori,” she said.
Laufersky ended up pursuing Montessori training and lived and worked as a Montessori teacher in Texas where two of her four children graduated from Montessori High School; the others were Montessori educated through middle school.
“Thirteen years later, I’m fully committed to Montessori teaching for all children ... tuition free, not only those who can afford to pay,” she said.
The Montessori approach involves seeing where children are socially, emotionally and developmentally, then helping them grow. According to the school website, the Montessori method stresses joyful learning, discovery and creativity in a natural mixed-age group setting (like the society our students will live in as adults). It fosters personal bonds with nature and reinforces those bonds with real-life problem-solving exercises.
“Instead of telling a child what to do all the time, we provide a structured environment with the freedom to explore and develop a real love of learning,” Laufersky said.
Like Pathfinder, Leelanau Montessori provides a tuition-based preschool program. The program is housed in a small structure on the east side of the Suttons Bay School complex.
School aged Montessori students receive instruction in mixed-grade classrooms in an area which was once the middle school wing of Suttons Bay Public Schools.
There are two lower elementary classrooms with students age 6 to 9 and one section of upper elementary students who are 9 to 12 years of age, the head of school said.
New to the charter academy this year is instructor Neil Sunga, who has more than 20 years experience as a Montessori teacher all over the world. Also new to the pre-K through sixth grade school are teachers DiAnn Service and Seraphina Vajda as well as Dena Aucoin, who will provide special education services. Aucoin will be assisted by Elizabeth Channer.
“Our student/teacher ratio is 15 to 1,” Laufersky said.
Eighty-three students were enrolled in the charter school’s elementary program as of last week. Fifty are expected to attend the academy’s primary/ toddler program.
The first day of school for Leelanau Montessori Charter Academy is Tuesday.
“Our calendar is almost identical to Suttons Bay Public School with the exception of a couple days off,” she said. “We try to keep it as close as possible.”