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Maia Blankenship

DC Wildflower Public Charter School Secures Full Approval!

Congratulations to Riverseed School Approval

On April 18, the DC Public Charter School Board voted unanimously to fully approve the 15-year charter agreement of the DC Wildflower Public Charter School (DCWPCS). This full charter approval vote will enable the Founding DC Wildflower Board and Staff to transition from planning to implementation as they prepare to open their first site, The Riverseed School.

DCWPCS Executive Director Rachel Kimboko, Founding Teacher Leaders Ebony Marshman and Zani Dalili-Ortique and Board Chair Neil Campbell thanked the Public Charter School Board for their feedback throughout their application and approval process. Both Zani and Ebony are Ward 7 residents, and Zani expressed her excitement to continue their journey: 

As a Ward 7 resident, a career Montessori educator, and a parent of school-aged children, I am thrilled to continue my work in bringing joy, laughter, and learning to children and families–this time in my own community–using an approach that has been proven to build critical thinking, independence, a joy of learning and collaborative work skills. 

The Riverseed School is prepared to open this fall in the Burrville neighborhood of Ward 7 in a beautiful converted residential home located on a large triple lot, including ample outdoor space for safe play and nature-based Montessori learning. 

Over the past year, the team spent extensive time building community support and partnerships: They attended and held community meetings and playdates, volunteered, met their neighbors and created a network of supportive service providers for students. They also hired a student support partner and operations partner to complement the founding team in the first year of operation and as the charter grows. 

The Riverseed School will be the first of up to six microschools, providing 225 students the opportunity for a free public Montessori education in beautiful, neighborhood-embedded, intimate learning environments.

Pollinating Innovation: Removing barriers to BIPOC leadership in Montessori education

Wildflower seeds are everywhere, including in the hearts and minds of educators all across the country. Much like the relationship between bees and the flowers they pollinate, Wildflower schools spread through the leadership of entrepreneurial educators as they shape the blooms of new teacher-led schools in their communities. 

 

Unfortunately, the current Montessori teacher landscape does not reflect the racial or socioeconomic diversity of the United States. Just as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color families haven’t historically had the same access to Montessori as more affluent white families, the same goes for educators. That is why we are launching the Wildflower Pollinator Fund–an initiative to diversify the Montessori educator workforce and support Black, Indigenous, People of Color educators to become credentialed Montessori educators. We plan to raise $1 million over the next three years to train and support 100 new BIPOC Montessorians, creating the capacity for their leadership to grow and diversify the beauty of the broader Montessori ecosystem.

 

This work is critically important to me because–after 16 years of leadership in public education–I have the unique opportunity to steward the growth of DC Wildflower Public Charter School and toddler programs here in the District of Columbia. When I think about the challenges and opportunities in front of me, I believe my most important work is to dismantle the domination culture educators have operated in and allow them to reset from the ups and downs they’ve weathered working in education.

 

I’ve already experienced this with our founding Teacher Leaders, Zani Dalili-Ortique and Ebony Marshman. Creating an environment that cultivates their ownership and autonomy is a massive task in a world where anti-Blackness has constructed assumptions about the capabilities of Black leaders and educators. Through our work together, building trust, and honoring their pace, I’ve seen firsthand the deep relationships with families and community that ground their vision and plans for The Riverseed School. 

 

There are many more incredible BIPOC educators like Zani and Ebony out there—people committed to their work with children, who have stewarded learning pods during COVID, who are credentialed educators but not Montessori trained. I have seen how strongly their beliefs align with Montessori philosophy and Wildflower’s liberatory purpose. Trends throughout the Wildflower network reinforce my experience: just under 10% of the prospective BIPOC educators who come to us are already Montessori trained. We want to support them in becoming Montessori educators in a way that is accessible for their place in life.

 

Montessori training is typically expensive and logistically difficult to access, with tuition averaging between $13,000 to $15,000 and hefty in-person training requirements that make it difficult for educators who need to maintain full-time employment. Even when candidates receive scholarships to local programs, many report that they are one of the few BIPOC students and that their program lacked an equity lens.

 

Regardless of cost, we believe investing in BIPOC leadership is the right thing to do, but these barriers continue to be a significant impediment to educators. We now have a considerable opportunity to pilot an effort to expand and accelerate our work through partnership with Rising Tide Montessori, a game-changing new AMI training program taking Montessori training online through a self-paced, low-residency program. 

 

Rising Tide’s program reduces the cost of training by half while allowing Wildflower the opportunity to create a supportive cohort of educators from across the country as they go through their online training and develop their school vision. Rising Tide will ensure our newest Montessori educators are equipped with the baseline practice and pedagogy to succeed as Montessori educators. Wildflower can provide further support and growth opportunities to determine what kind of school environment they want to thrive in as educators and liberatory leaders. 

Wildflower Charter School Sprouts in DC

Teacher Leaders Ebony Marshman and Zani Dalili-Ortique enjoy a Family Day at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

The seeds of a series of Wildflower microschools have been planted in Washington, DC. Through conditional approval in April 2021 – DC Wildflower PCS, only one of five applications the DC Public Charter School Board approved – the first microschool will open in Fall 2022 as The Riverseed School in Ward 7 or 8.

In this Q&A, Regional Site Entrepreneur Maia Blankenship previews the arrival of Wildflower in the District of Columbia. She shares what families can expect from these teacher-led, micro, Montessori schools and how educators can join the effort to establish liberatory learning environments in and around our nation’s capital.

We also invite you to tune into the following conversation with the DC Wildflower Public Charter School Leadership Team on the Montessori in Action Podcast!

How would you describe what Wildflower will add to the DC public school landscape? 

Imagine small, tuition-free public schools – about 25 students – throughout the District of Columbia, tucked into neighborhoods and led by dynamic teachers dedicated to creating a liberatory learning environment in partnership with the community. DC Wildflower Public Charter School will create spaces for educators and communities to design classroom sites where each child’s identity is affirmed and their genius is unleashed. We believe that intentionally small, Montessori learning environments enable the liberation of children, families and educators from the structures that limit opportunity. Together we can and must accelerate the journey to a more racially just and equitable world.

hiking adults and children

How will Wildflower schools build and support community in DC?

Every school site will foster deep relationships with the community in which it is embedded. Teacher Leaders will build relationships that go beyond the students and families they serve by partnering with and tapping the unique assets of their community. Families and students will thrive in a vibrant school community that reflects who they are, the assets they bring, as well as the deep investment of educators, volunteers, local businesses, and nonprofits.

We believe that communities of color, especially, know what they need to thrive – it is often resources and access that are in short supply. The community’s ideas and needs should be central in the design of schools. Educators, families and children, advocates and invested community partners will collaborate to create Wildflower classroom sites that reflect the genius, beauty, cultural wealth and assets of the neighborhood.

In a city with a lot of school choices already, what differentiates Wildflower?

Each Wildflower school is intentionally small and directly reflects the community. We provide liberatory learning environments that are anti-bias, anti-racist, inclusive, identify-affirming and healing. Our schools are co-founded by educators who serve as guides (Montessori’s term for teachers) and also serve as the school leaders, managing the day-to-day operations and administration of the school.

Tell us about the leaders of DC Wildflower Public Charter School and their mission.

Our two founding Teacher Leaders, Zanso (Zani) Dalili-Ortique and Ebony Marshman, are creating a community-embedded liberatory learning environment east of the Anacostia River – a school centered on Black students in a center of DC’s Black community. As local Black Montessorians, Ebony and Zani have deep experience as educators in DC, which, despite its increasing diversity and strength, remains stifled by historic and present-day racism as well as discriminatory policies and practices.

Also, we are thrilled that Rachel Kimboko joined DCWPCS as our Founding Executive Director of Stakeholder Engagement. A longtime contributor to DC’s Montessori community, Rachel will partner with Zani, Ebony and the Board of Trustees to keep us on track to open the Riverseed School, the first of up to six sites within the charter.

How is educational equity woven into Wildflower DC’s mission?

Our approach is grounded in the fact that the Montessori method is a holistic, time-tested curriculum that is keenly attuned to a child’s development and that, at its roots, is a tool for liberation. Providing a Montessori education faithfully and effectively requires both readiness of the environment (a physical space, within the community and saturated with identity-affirming materials and curriculum) and readiness of the people, especially teachers and staff who are committed to liberation and to disrupting all forms of oppression and who are armed with the tools to implement with purpose. Across all sites this includes:

  • Teacher-led and community-activated spaces that center Black people, Indigenous people, Latinx people and all people of color
  • Small and safe settings that are nimble and adapt to community needs
  • Intentionally anti-racist and anti-bias approach  
  • Identity-affirming, inclusive spaces 
  • Freedom to make decisions, move and communicate – with limits 
  • Focus on developing intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic rewards 
  • Hands-on, experiential, challenging curriculum
maia and daughter on grass

What are opportunities to stay connected and get involved in Wildflower’s DC regional hub?

We invite educators and families committed to liberatory, culturally affirming, community-embedded microschools to design with us. Public charter schools are one way that Wildflowers will grow in the DC region, but there are other ways, too. We are seeking Teacher Leaders interested in founding toddler programs or other teacher-led liberatory programs in the metro area.

Learn more about our work at https://wildflowerschools.org/dc/, and contact us at [email protected] to get involved. On social media, follow Wildflower DC’s development on Instagram @wildflowerschools.dc and on Facebook.