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Urban Montessori Charter School (Oakland, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Urban Montessori Charter School (Oakland, CA)



Sept 2013

Urban Montessori Charter School is a new public school in Oakland with a very ambitious vision to bring Montessori, arts integration and design thinking to a truly diverse student population that is reflective of the racial and socioeconomic mosaic that is Oakland. The school opened for the first time in Fall 2012; the school is located near Mills College.

There is no question that there were many struggles in our first year: some teachers couldn't hack it and quit mid-year and some families left. As in any start-up environment, there has been some turnover of staff as well.

But several families, including ours, chose to stick it out. We are only one week into Year Two, but I have been thrilled with how it is going so far. Our new head of school is Jill Stansbury, a seasoned Montessorian who relocated to Oakland from Chicago. Each classroom has two teachers, including several male teachers. The staff spent three weeks together this summer doing professional development, including a three-day workshop on design thinking at Stanford's d-school. We've been chosen after a highly selective process to join the Ashoka Foundation's Changemaker Schools Network. The families who are invested in the school are coming from all over: the Oakland hills and the Oakland flats, Kensington, Alameda, Hayward.

This year, there are two kindergarten classrooms and six classrooms that combine grades 1, 2 and 3. Students work at their own pace and learn from each other. There are no assigned seats or mountains of ditto sheets. We begin each day with a school-wide circle and sing ''This Little Light of Mine.'' You can learn more at www.urbanmontessori.org UMCS parent


May 2013

Re: Oakland Montessori School-current reviews?
I am a parent of 2 children at Urban Montessori and I can't imagine sending my kids anywhere else. First off the parent community is one of the best I've ever experienced. We are extremely grateful to be a part of a school that actually represents the community we live in. The (all volunteer) Board, which I think is a smaller subset of the original Design Team, are a set of very committed, knowledgeable and hard working folks. Many if not all have their own kids in the school and in my opinion have done a phenomenal job and ton of work not only to get the school up and running but to deal with inevitable startup challenges.

It has definitely been bumpy and I know that some parents and teachers have been unable to hang in there which is really sad for all of us. Both of my kids classrooms have had teachers exit, but the Administration has worked hard to stabilize the classroom and let me just say - the right teacher makes all the difference!

I would have to say that if you're expecting a school experience free of basic challenges (behavioral, financial, etc), this would not be the right fit for you. The school is entering Year 2 and has worked hard on ironing out a sustainable budget while having to make changes to its original format. There was a lot of disagreement about how art and music will be structured and World Languages have been cut temporarily until a way to build them back into the budget can be found.

Class sizes are still larger than what people want, but when you see the formulas on what the state gives per child and try to balance with all the things that a truly great education requires I understand why private elementary tuition is $20K (and most private schools would argue that still isn't enough!). The Board has made an explicit commitment to reducing class size pending any kind of positive change in budget. There is a lot of interest in the school from outside funders and there are parents in the community who have connections to private donors that will eventually benefit the school.

What keeps me on board is that I have witnessed a core group of people who have the love, commitment and know how to right the imbalances and fundamental problems. For some parents it wasn't fast enough. But for our family, we can see that the issues will be ironed out in due time and that the school will break the traditional learning mold and change the face of education in the State of California for the long term. We want to be a part of supporting that Vision of creating an effective model of learning that engages and produces critical thinking, empathic and happy learners.

I can't give you a solid answer on whether there has been a concrete behavior policy put in place - MAINLY because I don't know. I know that the way my child's behavior has been dealt with has changed throughout the school year and I've appreciated what the school has done to intervene on his disruptions in the classroom.

Lastly, we will miss the director Amanda Klein dearly and I have confidence that the Board will hire a great new Head of School. Erin Hennigan is Director of Instruction and I'm looking forward to seeing him be able to perform his role full time. He has been the lead teacher in my 8 1/2 year old daughter's classroom since her teacher left and she went from being doubtful the school could teach her anything to excitedly reporting each day what she's learning. Erin is a gem and has really hung in there and worked tremendously hard to keep both jobs responsibilities fulfilled.

You can contact me directly if you have any other questions about the school. Catherine B


May 2013

Every day that I leave my Kindergarten aged child at UMCS in the morning, my heart swells with joy and pride that he is going to a school where children are having the opportunity to thrive at school. The UMCS team is phenomenal. Their after-school program is beyond my wildest dreams (I'm not kidding) in terms of options.. everything from ceramics, cooking and gardening to capoeira, theatre, and woodworking is offered here. This school excels at making the entire program accessible to people from all socio-economic backgrounds. And most of all, this new school is on the road to becoming the first charter K-8 Montessori school in Oakland. As it is a new charter, it has experienced a steep learning curve in its first year in terms of creating an environment that can truly support all the diversity and special needs that are intrinsic to an Urban start-up. Stress around these issues has caused some hardship in some of the classes, and in fact some teachers have left the school, and the children who depend on them. While this is stunning and has left a bitter taste in some parents' mouths (such as the earlier poster), it makes room for teachers who will truly persevere to step in. My child has been fortunate to be in a stable classroom throughout the year and he loves school, his teachers, his friends, and learning. I am proud to be a pioneer at Urban Montessori in Oakland and I am excited for all the families who may have the opportunity to enjoy all that Montessori has to offer within a charter school format for years to come. Grateful Mom


April 2013

I am a parent of a 2nd grader at Urban Montessori Charter School. Let me add to the reviews from earlier in the year -- the honeymoon is over. I think that the lack of a Montessorri background for many of the kids has made for a very challenging environment. The school tried to prepare for this by having 5 half-day orientation sessions. This was not enough. I have witnessed regular behavior problems in my child's classroom which never seem to get addressed. The Executive Director has informed us that she is leaving after this year. The school is having financial difficulties and the Board -- well meaning parents who have children in the school -- will have to figure out how to handle that, as well as the various other administrative issues the school is dealing with. We are researching other schools as of today. UMCS disappointed mom


Feb 2013

We are considering Urban Montessori for my daughter entering next year for kindergarten. I understand some families left after the first year, and I would me most interested in learning the reasons for the decisions to leave. If you were a family that left Urban Montessori, would you be willing to share why? Thank you kinder mama


Let me first add the disclaimer that I am a current UMCS parent.

I do, however, know parents who have chosen not to stay at UMCS, and I'm happy to share some of the reasons they gave me.

I don't think UMCS is the perfect school for everyone. And I think everyone should have a good idea about the character of a school as a part of making the decision to send their children there. UMCS has a definite character and quality to it. It is intentionally inclusive (one of the most ethnically and socio-economically diverse schools I have ever even seen in this area) and that means that, especially in this first year, there has been the challenge of integrating some of the most diverse backgrounds you could imagine into a new culture that promotes freedom with responsibility. This is definitely a challenge but one I think the school is up to. UMCS is also working diligently at being a real Montessori school (not a Montes-sortof version) I think that Montessori education can work for every child, but it may not work for every family.

Let me clarify that there are not that many who have left compared to those who have stayed, and we currently have a waiting list for people who wish to enroll. However, the reasons for those who have not chosen to stay at UMCS relate to these two qualities of the school. The first, let's be honest, may have to do with parents who want a free private school or another option of a hills school. Which this is not. It is an amazing school with an immense resource pool ( lots of active parents and fundraising) that can make you feel like it is. It is an innovative curriculum and incredibly skilled teachers. But it is not free private school. It is an inclusive environment, and the challenges that come from that are not present in private schools.

The second reason families have articulated to me is that they were not liking the Montessori education. They thought it was ''not rigorous enough'' or not academically focused enough. Montessori education is holistic in that the skills of owning your own work, creativity, collaboration and socialization (like the skills needed in the real world) are as much the focus, as math and reading. When the school started, none of the parents had been able to take a school tour, so many of them had no prior experience or knowledge of what Montessori looked like. No homework? Small group instruction instead of class lessons? Why isn't my kid producing reams of worksheets? Some families are attracted to a school that is more military style (sorry I don't mean to make that sound bad, but I can't think of another word). I could tell that for the first few months there was more emphasis on socializing the kids and norming them in the classrooms than academics. That doesn't mean that academics weren't happening, it means that they were balanced with other needs. I won't lie, this made me nervous because I am a person who values rigorous education. I hunkered down and decided to give the school a chance to norm and to really give the Montessori system a shot. A month into school my child came home having multiplied for the first time - and enjoying it because they were working with a material they called the stamp game. My other child came home excited about learning geography because of the materials they were working with - a light box on which they were tracing huge maps and watercoloring different countries - how cool. So that's when I was hooked. Even as I know the school is continuing to work to build culture I am confident my children are working up to grade level - doing multiplication/division, learning grammar, earth science/zoology, and geography, etc. But more than that they are really loving their learning. Owning their work. They are working on making friends, and there is a diverse group of wonderful kids for them to be friends with.

I absolutely love UMCS, and am passionate about the schools mission, which to be frank I think is bigger than any individual students experience. It's about bringing the amazing opportunity of alternative learning to a broad population of our town. Having said that, my kids (I have two at the school) are having a wonderful experience. UMCS Parent


Jan 2013

Re: Kindergarten recommendations for Down syndrome
Today, my daughter is attending Urban Montessori Charter School. Montessori model is very SPED friendly based on the multisensory and individual instruction. UMCS is an inclusion school and services are provided by Seneca. We are extremely happy with the staff from Seneca. Our daughter is doing well in the inclusion environment and her peers accept her. However it's been a hard transition for me as a parent leaving the supportive nature of the SDC environment. I recommend you schedule a visit and ask to speak with Seneca before applying. 7% of the school is on IEP. 10% is considered full inclusion. The administration believes that another 7% are unidentified but working through assessments and RTI so the population ''true'' number is around 14%. I would welcome your daughter with open heart and arms at UMCS. All means all! Good luck! Anna


Jan 2013

We are so thrilled with our daughter's elementary school, Urban Montessori. It is a free public charter school located near Mills college (in a quiet residential neighborhood). The school is in its first year and it has already done some amazing things! We've been there 5 months and we feel that our daughter has really blossomed. Since each child moves at their own pace with individual projects, there are no limits for how fast a bright child can learn. Our daughter is already doing fractions in kindergarden! There is a lot of excitement in the school about creating a brand new, better type of learning experience for students which allows each to learn at their own pace, intuitively and freely following their interests within a structured framework. The school follows the Montessori method which has been around for 100 years and has given rise to some of the most successful entepreneurs of our time. It is also incorporting design thinking principles---definitely a concept which will be essential for future leaders. The teachers, principal and staff are extremely dedicated and the after school program has amazing variety of creative and physical activities. Diversity is highly valued, as is a peaceful environment. I highly recommend this school.


Oct 2012

Re: Hands-on, no-homework private/charter elementary?
Urban Montessori is the school you want then. A public charter school in Oakland, the school was founded on Montessori/Design Thinking philosophies. Hands on, project based with no homework is pretty much the exact model of the school. For more information visit http://www.urbanmontessori.org/about/our-mission UMCS parent


Sept 2012

I would love to hear how Urban Montessori Charter is going in its first month and what thoughts anyone has on this school. My child has just started kindergarten at a top-performing Oakland public school but I'm already wondering if the high-pressure, cookie-cutter setting is one she'll really thrive in. She loved learning so much until now.... Please share any insights into where UMC is at, and appears to be headed. Thanks so much!! -Want my child to love school!


My daughter is in kindergarten at Urban Montessori. We got into a very good OSD school but decided to take a chance, and I'm glad we did. We are new to Montessori, so this has been a learning experience for us. She comes home every day with something new--a word, a song, a story. She's taking yoga and Mandarin and in aftercare has taken a cooking class, jewelry making and African dance. They managed to get a great cross section of families-- there are black and white and straight and gay and rich and poor.

For a brand new school, it's incredibly well organized. Yes, there are glitches-- information isn't always easy to get, and they're still trying to figure out their best practices-- but far fewer than I expected for a start-up. Everyone I've encountered has been friendly and supportive: from parents to staff to teachers.

The location stinks-- it's way out by Mills College-- but they won't be there forever, they're going to outgrow it soon, and they're hoping for a more BART central, Uptown-ish location.

At this point, I have no regrets, and I'd tell anyone looking for a 'different' approach to school to try it! I have a feeling in 3 years it'll be like NOCCS, and everyone will be desperate to get in. New Montessori Mama


When I saw this message I decided to go straight to the source and ask my first grade daughter how she likes her new school and she said, ''I give it three loves.'' The teachers are amazing and the design team that founded the school is unbelievable. There are challenges as there would be with any start up, but that is also part of the excitement. This is a public school so don't expect the low student to teacher ratios. There are 34 students and 2 teachers in my daughter's class. There is an amazing amount of diversity, which is a major draw but also a major challenge as there are children at very different ability levels. If you are looking for the equivalent of a private school you are not in the right place. But if you are looking for an alternative to a regular public school but with a public school feel than UMCS might work for you. If you're not familiar with Montessori (I have no prior experience with the method) it is a bit of a leap of faith. But I feel like I can trust the teachers and founders to provide my child with a wonderful education. And I plan on volunteering a lot to make this dream school a reality. Oh and I love love that there is no homework. Last thing, the parent community has been fantastic. When the school couldn't provide after school care for the first week people quickly came together to help each other out. I agree with my daughter, I give Urban Montessori three loves! Signed: UMCS Parent
My daughter is in first grade at Urban Montessori and so far it is going very well. There have been some bumps along the way but I feel that they are now settling into a groove. In addition to the Montessori classroom, the kids have music, art and language (Mandarin or Spanish) a few days of the week and PE every day. When I ask my daughter what she likes the most, it is those special classes that she mentions. She also likes that she gets a lot of time to draw in her journal during the work period (she still does her other tasks). I worry a little bit that with the independence that kids get in the Montessori model that my daughter will spend too much time on the things she likes and not enough time on the things that are hard for her. After talking with her teacher I can see that she (the teacher) looks at each child and finds ways to use their strengths (for my daughter drawing) to help in other areas (reading and writing in our case).

Last year my daughter was in kindergarten at a different first year charter school. I can tell you that the staff at Urban Montessori is doing a much better job at dealing with the inevitable issues that come up when starting a new school. I believe this is a school that will continue to improve over time. I am very impressed by the teaching staff and the administration. They have a very ambitious mission and they seem to be on track to achieve it. happy UMCS mom


Hi, So far UMCS has been wonderful for my second grader. My child has come home learning how to divide and multiply in the first three weeks! I find the focus on personal responsibility and independent thinking remarkable. We have had a gecko at home for two years. It mainly sat quietly alone with the parents taking care of her. But two weeks ago, my second grader asked to have a lower table for the gecko and is now regularly feeding it and giving it water (I am still working on having the cage cleaned). it has been a transition in terms of friends and schedules, but overall I would say my child is thriving.

I won't deny that there have been some hiccups regarding communication to parents, but this is a start up public school with limited funding so I am patient and working hard to correct this issue as a volunteer.

I will fully disclose that my family has been involved in the start up of the school so i have tried to focus on my child's progress and comments to me. Christina


We are so pleased to be a part of UMCS this year. The vision the design team is holding is an ambitious one, but the resources are there to meet it. I have loved the community created at the school, and the parental involvement. For a start up, this school is organized and clear in its vision. They're also willing to review and revise as needed. I'm excited every day my daughters have something fun to report - working with materials, cooking, capoeira, yoga, and the lessons taught by talented teachers. UMCS Parent
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