History of Foundation: 1971-1974
In the fall of 1971, there was no Montessori school in Lafayette or even a group interested in starting one, but by the fall of 1972, after much frantic activity on the part of many people, the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette was ready to open its doors.
It began when two women—both with older children who had attended Montessori schools in other cities—who felt that Lafayette should have a Montessori school, and set out to see that their dream became a reality. Jan Knote had moved from Fort Wayne and after inquiring around about pre-school education, enrolled her daughter in Dennis Burton Day Care Center, which at that time, 1970, had a Montessori program. The directress had a roommate named Jeannine Schmid, who was a Montessori teacher and at that time a PhD candidate at Purdue in Child Development and Family Life. When Jan Dilley moved to Lafayette in the summer of 1971, she called Jeannine, whose name had been given to her by her son’s Montessori teacher in Ohio, to find out about Montessori education in Lafayette. By that time the directress at DBDCC had moved and there was no Montessori program in town, but Jeannine gave Jan the name and phone number of Jan Knote—and also gave Jan Knote the name and phone number of Jan Dilley and suggested to them that they start a school. They finally worked up their nerve and called a meeting of people interested in Montessori education. They put a notice in the “What’s Happening” column of the Journal & Courier, had the meeting announced on the radio, and put up posters.
The meeting was held February 10, 1972 at the Knote’s and was attended by nine—the Knote’s, the Dilley’s, the MacKenzie’s, the Croxton’s, and Linda Dvdycha—a Purdue professor who was on Jeannine Schmid’s PhD committee. The Croxton’s announced that they were planning on opening a school as soon as they worked out the details of a franchise with a Florida firm which builds and equips Montessori schools. The MacKenzie’s were going to be involved in the school with them and Mrs. Croxton was at the time taking a Montessori training course by correspondence and planned on being the teacher. Dr. Croxton felt it was a good place to invest his money and indicated his interest in the school being a moneymaking venture. The Knotes, Dilleys, and Dvdycha felt that they were not interested in that type of school, but a parent-organized, board-run, not-for-profit school. They decided to go ahead with that in mind.
A second meeting was called and advertised the same way as the first, only with better results. That meeting was held on February 28 at the Blessed Sacrament Church Education Building and was attended by about 20 people. There was no format or speaker for the meeting, as we felt it would be better to have a “round the table discussion” with everyone sharing thoughts about the possibility of starting a Montessori school in the community. Several people indicated strong interest in seeing the school get started and offered to help in any capacity, including Kent Props, Bob Stevenson, and Dick and Debbie Fisher. These people along with the two Jans and Linda Dvdycha made a concerted effort to spread the word about the school and to interest more people in becoming involved as “founding parents.”
After many phone calls and meetings among the founding few, it was decided to have a well- advertised public meeting with Jeannine Schmid speaking about the Montessori Method and showing a film of her former school in Cincinnati. The meeting was held on March 28, again at the Blessed Sacrament Church Education building and was attended by approximately 80 people, most of whom were very receptive and enthusiastic about Montessori education. An application form was available for people interested in enrolling their children in the school-to-be. The tuition for the year was estimated to be $425.00 and a $25.00 registration fee was asked of the parents, which would apply toward the tuition. People who did not have children of school age but who wished to give their support—Art and Linda Dvdycha and Ken and Linda Ewing, among others—could become associate members for a fee of $10.00 a year. Such blind faith so many of us had in this venture! We had no building, no teacher, and no equipment—only the feeling that this was an idea whose time had come, and were willing to send money to get the school going.
On May 3, less than 5 months after the first meeting at the Knotes, an article was put in the Lafayette Journal and Courier stating that a non-profit, parent-run, Montessori pre-school would be opening in September. Applications were available on request and the telephone numbers of Jan K., Jan D., and Phyllis Scanlon were given if further information was desired. Small posters were also placed around town advertising the new school.
By May 10, Linda Dvdycha had written a set of by-laws, the articles of incorporation were filed (Montessori Parents, Inc.), and an election of officers was conducted at a meeting at Dvdycha’s of the parents with children enrolled in the school or associate members. Kent Props was elected president; Phyllis Scanlon, liaison officer; Linda Ewing, recording secretary. Elected to the board for 2-year terms were Jan Knote, Jan Dilley, Linda Dvdycha, and Kent Props. Elected for 1 year terms were Ken Ewing, Dick Fisher, and Fred Past. The first board meeting was held on May 18, 1972, and the following officers were elected: Fred Past, president; Jan Dilley, vice-president; Ken Ewing, executive officer (secretary-treasurer). For better communication with various Montessori societies and to distinguish our school from the one the Croxton’s hoped to start, the school was officially named The Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. At that time there were 26 children enrolled, still with no teacher, building, or equipment. It was resolved to recruit more members and to have yet another public information meeting. That meeting was held on June 5, at the West Lafayette Public Library and the speaker was Mrs. Evelyn Froelich, a Montessori teacher from Indianapolis. The meeting was attended by approximately 100 people and was thought by many to be a general disaster. Mrs. Froelich spoke far too long and not very well and was unable to field questions from some people in the audience who seemed hostile to the Montessori method.
Of the people who came to decide whether or not to send their children to the school, most probably decided not to. The families who had already decided in favor of a Montessori education for their children went ahead with the business of opening a school. Of the few choices available, Temple Israel was chosen as our location for classes. The board decided against renting from the West Lafayette School Corporation because of possible conflict with the parents of the public school children, especially when we had a kindergarten class.
In June, the board ordered all of the “A” equipment in the Neinhaus catalog, a Dutch firm that makes Montessori equipment. The teacher search went on and after interviewing several applicants, including Manel Semararing, who decided to return to Ceylon, a verbal contract was offered on July 22nd to Louise Anderson, a directress from Michigan with many years of experience. She accepted our offer, but before the written contract was sent Mrs. Anderson accepted another position. With the enrollment growing and equipment already ordered, the board became frantic in their search for a directress. After many, many telephone calls to Montessori societies and training centers all over the country, a qualified directress was found. Loretta Gooneratne had just arrived in this country from Ceylon with her husband and son, and was looking for a position. After speaking with her on the telephone (she was staying with her sister in Portland, Oregon) and getting a verbal recommendation for her from Mary Terese Small of the Illinois Montessori Society, who had her credentials, we offered her the job, sight unseen, and she accepted, sight unseen.
We sent her and her family plane fare from Portland to Chicago and they were met at the airport by Kent Props who brought them back to Lafayette, had them stay at his house, helped them find an apartment, and helped Jeffery Gooneratne find a job.
The school opened on September 19, 1972 with Loretta as directress and Mabel Compusano, a Montessori-trained teacher from Columbia, South America, as an assistant directress. Sharon Ross assisted in the morning class, went to the 4-C (Community Coordinated Child Care) meetings and coordinated our participation in the Spring Festival. She also attended occasional board meetings as the staff spokeswoman and let the board know what was needed in the classroom. Jeannine Schmid was retained as a consultant. After a typical start with children of a wide range (2½-5) with no previous Montessori experience, the staff recommended that new children be no older than 3½. There was an open house shortly after school opened so that the parents would have an opportunity to meet the staff, see the classroom and learn about the lovely new equipment their children would be working—not playing—with.
The year was marked by abundant volunteer help. Some fathers worked diligently sawing, sanding, assembling, and finishing the beautiful cabinets that held the materials. They also installed the sink (much to the dismay of the staff, for it was not child-size), made some equipment, and kept things in good repair. Many mothers took turns staying in the office to answer the phone, help with paperwork, and make materials for the classroom. They also were scheduled to clean the classroom, office, and restrooms on Fridays, as we could not afford janitorial help.
Pam Kline volunteered to type a weekly newsletter, which kept families up to date on school functions, classroom news, things needed, and things accomplished. The board had budgeted for 56 students, and since 37 were enrolled, we ordered the “B” and “C” equipment from Neinhaus, except for the maps, which were very expensive. In December we had a bake sale at Sears, the proceeds of which went toward a scholarship fund. In January 1975, Jeannine Schmid conducted a Montessori workshop for parents and any other interested people. It was very informative and was attended by 20 people who paid $10.00 each for the all-day workshop. During the year, several study group meetings were held which were very helpful to the few who attended.
In February we started to advertise for a directress for the 1973-74 school year, as Loretta was uncertain if she would be returning. During March, April, and May we corresponded with several applicants and visited the Hobart, Indiana Montessori School to observe Barbara Noll teach her class there. In May, Loretta informed us that she was pregnant and definitely would not be returning. The position was offered to Barbara Noll, who accepted. We ended the school year with students and a deficit of approximately $1,777.37. It was the consensus of the outgoing board “that we have profited greatly from one year’s experience and can now begin to re-examine responsibilities.” At the May corporation meeting several new board members were voted in to replace the outgoing members. They were: George McCabe, Linda Ewing, and John Remo.
On March 15, the Journal and Courier ran a 2-page feature article about Montessori education featuring Dennis Burton Day Care Center and Montessori of Greater Lafayette. That much publicity was eagerly anticipated by everyone connected with the school but in the end it was felt to be a disappointment because of its “slant” against Montessori philosophy.