When Executive Director Cindy Garwood first walked into MSGL in 1998, with her four-year-old daughter Chloe, she didn’t know what was in store. “I had just kind of heard through the grapevine that Montessori was a wonderful thing, but I didn’t have any context on it. And it was such a wonderful thing that I haven’t been able to go away since!” Cindy’s daughter Chloe continued at MSGL through third grade, and her youngest daughter, Taylor, started MSGL at age three and stayed until she completed sixth grade. Cindy began serving on the Board of Directors of MSGL in 1999, and she has served on the board continuously until the board asked her to serve as interim Director in 2016.
Asked about her professional background before this directorship, Cindy replied, “Probably a unique background! I’m actually trained as an attorney, and I have practiced for about thirty years in all aspects of family law.” Cindy’s dedication to serving families has included many years representing CourtAppointed Special Advocates, who are volunteers who advocate on behalf of children in neglect or abuse situations, and also hundreds of cases of guardian-ad-litem for children, where she would make recommendations on behalf of children when courts are asked to develop parenting plans between parents who can’t maintain an intact household. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in mediation, working with parents to help them craft parenting plans themselves in the face of separation, rather than having to accept the parenting plan that results from a court proceeding. “I think court is the worst place to do that,” she says. In addition, Cindy has been actively involved as a foster parent and as a trainer of foster parents. In all these capacities, she has worked closely with the child psychologists and social workers in our community who also work to help families.
“That kind of work can sometimes be really traumatic and distressing. And so I’ve stayed connected to MSGL because it was always a place of light for me, a place where you saw people at their best. Our Montessori community is based on respect: respect for yourself, respect for each other, respect for the environment, respect for the whole community.”
In addition to the mutual respect grown at MSGL, Cindy values the way it fosters independence and love of learning. “I think it offers an internalization of self-motivation. I think that is really healthy, rather than our just trying to shove information into kids’ brains and hoping that they can later regurgitate it. These children learn to value learning, and learn that they are in charge of their learning. It gives them a great base for their future.”
Asked what she would want Montessori families to know, Cindy replied, “I’m approachable and open to ideas, and willing to be a conduit to the Board of Directors for the ideas that people have.” Also, “I really encourage people to seek out volunteer positions that would be of interest to them.” She mentioned just a few, such as board member, Sound-Table helper, and laminator, but emphasized finding a task that is a good personal fit. (“You shouldn’t give me anything to laminate!” she laughed.) “If you are around the school helping out, not only does the school blossom from that, but you do. Because you connect to the people here. And you get to watch these kids grow – in a way that sometimes, in the bigger classrooms, in public schools, you don’t get to experience as closely as you can here. Getting to know all these different children is a blast. I still keep up with many of the classmates that were in my girls’ preprimary class, because you can get that close to these kids and families, and it’s just so fun!”