Saturday, June 01, 2002

Sands says final farewells

Montessori moving out of West End building

By Jennifer Mrozowski, and and Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jane Markowski's voice choked with emotion when she thought about leaving the old Sands Montessori school building.

        “I wasn't going to do this until the buses left,” said Ms. Markowski, who has taught 14 years at Sands.

[photo] Sands Montessori teacher Ginger Fischesser packs away 23 years of memories as she prepares for the move from the West End to Mount Washington.
(Glenn Hartong photos)
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        Teachers and students at Sands Montessori on Friday packed up their textbooks and memories for a historic move out of their crumbling West End building.

        While students throughout the 42,000-student district said goodbye to their schools for the summer, Sands students and teachers said goodbye forever. Next school year, the popular magnet program's 620 students and 80 staff members will move to the Eastern Hills school building in Mount Washington.

        “It's full of emotion here,” said Principal Gary Browning Jr. as he sat surrounded by packed boxes in his cramped office. “This school was the solution to the desegregation lawsuit.”

        Magnet schools, which draw students from outside their neighborhoods, opened throughout Cincinnati in the 1970s as a way to create diverse schools.

        As part of a voluntary desegregation effort before a lawsuit was settled in 1984, Cincinnati schools merged several Montessori programs into Sands in 1979.

[photo] Friday was the last day of school in this historic West End building for Sands Montessori, forever.
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        Sands, which opened in Mount Adams in 1975 as the first public Montessori school in the nation, has been in its building for more than two decades. The four-story brick building, however, has housed CPS students for 90 years.

        It's one of the first of many school programs that will be moving in the next decade as part of the district's $1 billion school construction plan.

        The move is a relief to many parents who have been clamoring for years to leave the deteriorating building, built in 1912. To others, moving Sands signifies not only the end of an era, but another example of flight from the city's urban core.

        “I really wish it could stay downtown,” said Minnie Hartley, a Winton Place resident who sent 10 of her 11 children to Sands. “So many things in the community are moving out.”

        About 220 people, including some Sands parents, signed petitions to keep the school in the West End.

        It would cost as much to renovate the building — about $10 million to $12 million — as it would to build a new one, said Mr. Browning, who searched unsuccessfully for a different site downtown. “I know in my heart I worked to keep this school downtown.”

        What's more, he said, “I think there's a vast majority who feel it's time. But there's melancholiness, too. I have mixed feelings.”

        Teachers, too, are torn about the move.

        Ms. Markowski, who teaches 9- to 12-year-olds, will miss the panoramic view of the city from her classroom — room 307. She won't miss the constant buzz of traffic. “We've got the I-75 symphony. Because of that, students learned to project their voices. If they can't project, I have to close the windows and we suffocate.”

About Sands
    • Defining characteristic: First public elementary Montessori school in the nation.
    • Founded: 1975 in Mount Adams as the Children's House. It opened originally to satisfy a desegregation lawsuit against Cincinnati Public Schools. The school recruited students from beyond its neighborhood.
    • Enrollment in 1975: 200 for grades K-2.
    • Enrollment in 2001-02: 620 for grades pre-K-6
    • Move to West End: 1979; the success of several Montessori programs necessitated an expansion.
    • Racial breakdown: 55.6 percent African-American, 33.5 percent white, 8.8 percent multiracial, 1 percent Asian, about 1 percent Hispanic and Native American
    • Moving this fall to: Eastern Hills school site, 6421 Corbly St., Mount Washington
    • Effects of move:The K-8 French and Spanish programs at Eastern Hills and Heinold schools will be relocated to form a French and Spanish program at the Crest Hills school building in Roselawn next school year.
        She's sad to leave, but knows the Mount Washington building will provide new opportunities, such as water and land labs. The building sits on 23 acres with a pond. Sands is surrounded by concrete.

        Some students, meanwhile, still had many questions about the move. Are we still going to have the TV? Is it still going to be a Montessori program? Can we still go to the West End library and see Miss Marilyn? — the children's librarian.

        Teacher Jodi Merritt tried to reassure her class of 6- to 9-year-olds that teachers are taking everything with them, including Max, the guinea pig. “And we did tell Miss Marilyn (Eisbruch) that we'll come visit,” she told the students gathered around her on the floor.

        Later, she said, “I'm very excited about the green space and a newer building, but being here 23 years, I'm very sad about leaving the West End.”

        Their old location allowed them many walking field trips to the Cincinnati Museum Center, Music Hall, the West End library branch and swimming at a nearby recreation center.

        While students said they'll miss the old building, many are excited about moving.

        “I think of good things like a better playground, a bigger space, meeting new friends who will come into the new building,” said Sharie Black, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Walnut Hills. “We'll have a good time.”

        Teachers and administrators are racing the clock to pack everything by June 10. On Friday, Ginger Fischesser sat in her classroom packing teaching supplies into blue plastic storage tubs that she'll take home for the summer.

        It was a trip down memory lane, chronicling her 25 years of teaching at Sands. “I've found stuff that I haven't had out for 25 years. I thought it was gorgeous then, but I wouldn't put it out now. Things have gotten a little more upscale now,” said Ms. Fischesser, a preschool and kindergarten teacher.

        “I've really liked working in the inner city. It's been part of my mission. I'm sure I'll adjust to Mount Washington. For us, the issue is green space. So much of Montessori and its curriculum deals with the environment. What I won't miss are the bullets flying over their heads on the playground during the riots.”

        Sands Montessori moves from a mostly black, poverty-stricken neighborhood to Mount Washington on the city's east side. The district is working to maintain the school's diversity by adding bus routes.

        Parents and teachers say they'll miss the old building's neo-Classical revival architecture, its inner marble stairs and the quaint wooden bookshelves built into many of the classroom walls.

        They won't miss building conditions. Two years ago, a window from a rotted sill fell from the school to the pavement below. Uneven heating and cooling means classrooms boil in the summer while frigid winds whip through aged, drafty windows in the winter.

        Repairs were made and the school is safe for students from other schools who will be housed there for a transitional period while new schools are being built, district officials say. The building is to close permanently about 2007.

        Although Ms. Markowski will miss the character of the old building, she knows it's not brick and mortar that make a school.

        “This place is like dying and going to teacher heaven. We have kids who struggle academically, and we have kids who are as sharp as tacks. All of our kids are talented and gifted. Everybody brings their own set of gifts into the classroom. What more could you ask?”

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