Garden Oaks Montessori gathers for groundbreaking

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Despite a stormy forecast, the weather cleared up just long enough Friday morning for the Garden Oaks Montessori community to officially celebrate the start of construction on their new addition and renovations.

The suddenly sunny skies matched the mood of hundreds of students, staff, and community members who took part in the groundbreaking ceremony.

“We have some sunlight, so let’s make the most of this beautiful moment in time,” Principal Lindsey Pollock said as she kicked off the celebration, which included student performances and a recitation of the Garden Oaks Creed.

Garden Oaks Montessori is among 40 HISD schools being renovated or rebuilt across the district as part of the voter-approved 2012 Bond Program.

Plans for the $26.7 million project include new and renovated classroom spaces, a new multipurpose gymnasium, a secure and defined main entrance, additional parking, and bus and parent drop-off driveways.

HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza praised the principal, students and staff for their commitment to Montessori education, noting that Garden Oaks is one of very few public K-8 Montessori schools in the country.

“I can only wait until it’s completed so we can tour all of the beautiful classrooms, all of the beautiful learning spaces together,” Carranza said.

Deputy Superintendent Sam Sarabia said he was proud of the school becoming a true Montessori program, where students have a choice of work in a prepared environment.

“We always remind communities when we’re getting new schools that it’s not just the new building that makes the program,” he said, noting that he had been impressed when walking the halls and visiting classes earlier that morning. “I know it is a program we’re extremely proud of, but a program that’s also being implemented with fidelity.”

Community support was evident on Friday as dozens of neighbors, parents, and HISD leadership turned out for the event. Entertainment was provided by the Waltrip High School Jazz band and the Garden Oaks Montessori Leadership Choir.

Garden Oaks students also assembled outside to watch the ceremony, including the ceremonial groundbreaking complete with shovels and hardhats.

“We’re going to have a lot more students and more room,” Garden Oaks 5th-grader Athena Atkinson said. “I think it’s going to be really great.”

HISD Board of Education Trustee Anna Eastman recalled the challenges she faced when turning the neighborhood elementary school with a Montessori program into a full-fledged Montessori school in 2011.

“It was worth every ounce of effort,” said Eastman, noting the school continues to attract a waiting list of students each year.

With the school’s enrollment growth and the recent creation of a middle-school program, the addition and renovations couldn’t come at a better time, according to teacher Beverly Carson.

“I’m thrilled about the space,” Carson said. “It will be beautiful and it’s going to continue building the community here.”

HISD currently has roughly three dozen projects under construction — more activity than any other time in district history. Nearly half of all 2012 Bond Projects are expected to be complete by the end of June. Once all work is done, the district will boast of one of the most modern portfolios of urban high schools in the country.

At Garden Oaks, foundation work is well underway for the first addition, and utilities are scheduled to start soon.

“I’m thrilled. It’s just going to be beautiful,” said Brenda de Alba, who served on the school’s Project Advisory Team and is a member of the Garden Oaks Civic Club. “It’s going to benefit the neighborhood.”