We Want to Be Engaged

Also in the Weekly Post, December 17, 2010

“I like coming to school in the morning. My previous school was all about conformity. Here you can be yourself.”

That’s a direct quotation from a Montessori high school student. Last week while John Long and I were visiting two Montessori high schools in California and Colorado, we were struck by the commonalities amongst the students despite the differences in the way the programs looked at first glance.
The student experience of the programs was the dominant feature. In their own words, their experiences are remarkable and they are sensitive to how their school differs from others:

  • We want to be engaged. 
  • Montessori school challenges us more.
  • I know everyone in the school, all the students and all the teachers.
  • We’re like a big family. We hate each other and love each other.
  • The geeks are the jocks.
  • No bullies.
  • Here you can be yourself. 
  • People accept each other and their differences.
  • There are no cliques; we’re open to each other.
  • We learn to see things in a different way, from different perspectives. 
  • The teachers know our strengths and shortcomings. Their trust in us is inspiring.
  • We’re able to find our own talents.
  • We’re not taught what to think...but are encouraged to think independently.
  • This is the kind of school where everyone wants to sit in the front of the class.
The Post Oak High School faculty will create an environment to engage the adolescent. The students themselves will bring the preparatory work to life when they walk on campus in August of 2012. Until then, we’re asking current and former Post Oak students as well as Montessori high school students in other schools to tell us how to create a school that they’d like to come to every morning.


Beyond Innovation

Also in the Weekly Post, December 3, 2010.

What is it that sets a Montessori high school apart from other high schools? How do the remarkable transformations of early childhood seen in Montessori schools continue when teenagers enter high school?
When Maria Montessori opened the first “children’s house,” people exclaimed, “Look at the new children.”  The transformation in the children’s abilities and behavior was so extreme, they seemed not to be the same children at all. To call this “innovation” may have been apropos for 1907. But where is Montessori education today, more than a hundred years later? What are the innovations of the twenty-first century? Could there be new adults?

To many people, teenagers appear apathetic. That is disengagement. Many high schools fail to engage teenage students. So, where will adolescents find authentic engagement in a Montessori high school? How will their teachers—their guides—create environments and experiences conducive to deep connections and excitement about new ideas? What are the core components of such a school? Other environments may find it easy to fill a day with busywork that looks like productive movement. But in truth, such work only saps the energy of adolescents creating disengagement and frustration. So what are those core components that set a Montessori high school apart and help teenagers toward becoming new adults? 

Here are a few: 

Connections with the adult world:  This is authentic preparation for adult life. It is not a mock up or an internship at the end of senior year. The access to adult professionals who are living out a contribution to society is a key component that pulls back the curtain on the nature of adult life. Students benefit by working shoulder to shoulder for extended times with subject-matter experts in areas that interest them.

Social justice: Students engage in local, state, national, and global issues of social justice. This is not just to become aware of such issues in the abstract, but to be active in work important to a teenager’s ever-refining ethical mind. It provides opportunities for true compassionate action.

Adaptability: Preparing for life in the world of the twenty-first century means not just learning how to learn, but learning to love learning. Students will not merely be savvy with current tools, technology, and skills, but will become efficiently adaptable, which will serve them in the ever- and more rapidly changing future.

International-mindedness: Students become connected to the whole world and the challenges that face people globally in relation to local and national challenges and opportunities. Life in the twenty-first century will more and more depend on the ability to know and value local and national cultures while simultaneously engaging in productive work as a citizen of the world.

Entrepreneurship and business: Teens are inclined to learn about money and commerce. They are pragmatically interested in social and economic exchange and must develop an economic independence during adolescence. That is, they must become able to earn for themselves and to see what they can do to be a contributing member of society. The questions are, “What do I need?” and “What can I do?”

Post Oak High School will be a school for doing, not waiting.  It is more than just a standalone building with bright students and a dynamic faculty (though there certainly will be both of those!). It is a high school where students ask themselves, “How can I contribute to the world?” This vision of high school is more than innovation; it is a school woven into the mesh of human society and the natural world, a place for learning that connects students to their future, new adult selves.


The Prepared Environment - In High School

Also in the Weekly Post, November 12, 2010.

In real estate, we know it’s “location, location, location,” but it’s all the more true for a Montessori high school. The past couple of articles about the High School have focused on the budding partnerships in the Museum District.  However, to establish the partnerships is just the beginning. The creation of relationships is part of the preparation of the environment for the adolescent students. Remembering that our mission is to create an environment that helps them “prepare themselves” for life, the proximity to the partners is a key factor in choosing a location for the High School.

This past weekend’s Montessori Journey gave us a great opportunity to experience the Montessori prepared environments that our children enjoy everyday. Notice that these are not mere classrooms—a room for a class—but are ‘prepared.’ How are they prepared? Each space is dedicated to a specific age range and the room is carefully arranged and ordered to serve the developmental characteristics and needs of that age.
The environments contain just what is necessary and sufficient for the children’s development. If we add too much, it’s just clutter. If we don’t have enough, the children will be bored. Either way, negative behaviors can result. Each Montessori teacher shows her sensitivities to the age by choosing what materials are available, in what quantities, and in what arrangements—then adds to the room an array of work spaces where children may take the materials to work with them. The materials and the work spaces invite the children to activity, not passivity. Each environment then is more than just a room—it is a laboratory, a studio, a senate, a canvas, a party, a workshop—the environments for each age are optimized to help children prepare themselves for life.  The teachers don’t prepare the children, the children prepare themselves!

How should the environment for adolescents be prepared? What should it look like? This environment would not be just a single room, but a series of world-class institutions, each representing a variety of disciplines and providing opportunities without an upper limit. This environment, like all the other Montessori prepared environments before it, calls out to the students; it is attractive and compelling. This prepared environment provides a safe and engaging core learning space from which students can leap off in any direction and to any depth. The environment is populated by adults who provide challenge and support to the adolescent students who are making their way to adulthood. These subject experts must be readily available to students to foster a close connection with the disciplines, but also with the adults who are contributing to society through their work. The location of the High School places the students into direct contact with these exemplars of human society in a variety of fields.

So get ready, because in the afternoon on Saturday, November 3, 2012, we’ll put the journey in Montessori Journey as we travel to the Museum District and see that Montessori prepared environment through the eyes of the Post Oak School class of 2016.


Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Relationship Sprouts for High School

Also in the Weekly Post, October 28, 2010.

As you already know, the Post Oak High School will feature innovative partnerships with Museum District organizations that allow Post Oak faculty and students to extend the “classroom” beyond the school walls. These are key relationships that are at the core of a unique curriculum for the High School. Since our conversation with the Houston Museum of Natural Science (see The Weekly Post from Sept. 24, 2010), we have also begun talking with Deborah Canon, the CEO and president of the Houston Zoo, and Peter Marzio, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The goals of these partnerships is to provide faculty and students with a broad array of options in creating an engaging school experience unlike anything else. We anticipate the curators, educators, and professionals at the Museums to function as adjunct faculty for the Post Oak High School.  They will provide expert resources for staff and direct, engaging research connections for students.  Post Oak, will work closely with the museums to support their approaches in education, particularly for middle school and high school students.

Two weeks ago, I had an encouraging meeting at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston with the Director, Dr. Peter Marzio and attended by Post Oak board member Windi Grimes, Head of School John Long, and Development Director Christina Kopanidis-Cantu. This week, I hosted Dr. Victoria Ramirez, the Education Director at the MFAH. As she toured the school with me, it was clear that the partnership was going to be mutually beneficial beyond just the High School students.  After seeing the Infant Communities and Primary environments, Dr. Ramirez asked Early Childhood Director Mirani Smith how the museum could be helpful and how she could find out more about the programs at Post Oak.

My follow-up conversation with Dr. Ramirez provided ample time (before the fire drill!) to brainstorm some ideas and considerations for the partnership between the two organizations going forward.  In the coming weeks, I’ll visit the MFAH again and meet curators and conservationists who we anticipate will be joining the Post Oak community as adjunct faculty members for the high school.


Creating Partnerships: HMNS Loves the Idea!

As in the Weekly Post, September 24, 2010.

Post Oak High School has begun establishing museum district partnerships fundamental to its mission, and is enjoying a positive response from area institutions. This component of the high school pairs professionals inside world-class cultural and scientific organizations with post oak students in meaningful collaboration. This creates an engaging environment in which students have opportunities to develop skills and pursue interests in real-world settings. This network of partnerships, we believe, makes Post Oak High School unique among Houston’s top private high schools.

One of the first institutions to express interest in Post Oak’s program is also one of the most popular museums in the country (among the top five in annual attendance based on total ticket sales): the Houston museum of natural Science. Following discussions with High School Director James Moudry and Head of School John Long, HMNS president Joel Bartsch is enthusiastic:

“I see great potential,” Bartsch says, “for students to benefit from focused relationships with curators and staff at the museum—building on their coursework through real, behind-the-scenes experience with top professionals in the country. working closely with students also benefits the museum, furthering our mission to enhance in citizens an interest in natural science.
“I have always envisioned the existence of a high school based here in the Museum District so that students could easily access all various resources that the museums here have to offer,” Bartsch says. “Now Post Oak High School is making that a reality. Our collaboration will support the museum’s goals in innovative ways and provide an approach we can share with our other visitors.”


One More Step Forward for Post Oak High School

As in the Weekly Post, July 23, 2010.

From John Long, Head of School

Letter dated July 19, 2010

Dear Parents,

I have great news to announce.  James and Sarah Moudry will be joining the Post Oak team in August.  James Moudry has accepted my offer to become the founding director of the Post Oak High School.  For the past three years he has served on the leadership team of the Montessori High School in Cleveland. This makes him uniquely qualified to assume the lead role in the development of the Post Oak High School, a two-year process to develop curriculum, establish Museum District partnerships, acquire property, design facilities, recruit students and faculty, and raise the funds to pay for it all.  There is much work to be done before we can open the doors to a freshman class in August 2012 and clearly James will not accomplish this alone.  It will take many hands to bring forth the high school, and it will be James’ role to provide leadership.

Previous to his experience with the development and start-up phases of the Cleveland project, James worked for six years as a Montessori Middle School teacher and team leader.  In addition, he has written and spoken about the Montessori adolescent, and served on the faculty of the NAMTA Summer Orientation to Adolescent Studies. He consulted with the Post Oak Middle School during our last two AMI accreditation cycles (2006 and 2010) and his reports were observant, insightful, and encouraging. At the same time, he helped us set a clear agenda for growth.  

Because of this experience I’ve asked James to assume responsibility as Middle School director during the start up phase for the High School.  This will help him to become more deeply familiar with the Post Oak Middle School program, students and families, a knowledge that will serve him well as we develop the high school and recruit the first classes of students.  This shift of responsibility will also enable Jeff Schneider to focus completely on the Elementary department.  Given the growth of our Elementary program over the past three years, this is important — especially in the upcoming year as we open a new Upper Elementary classroom and have three teachers in new positions.

James’ academic background prepares him well for the work ahead.  He has an AMI Primary Diploma from the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota; an M.Ed. from Loyola University Maryland; and a B.A. in psychology, philosophy, and mathematics from the University of Minnesota. Just as important, he was a Montessori child all the way through eighth grade at The Lake Country School in Minneapolis.

Sarah Moudry will also be joining the Post Oak faculty.  Many of you met Sarah Moudry two years ago when she came here to film NAMTA’s video about the Infant Community.  Sarah will become our pinch hitter, assuming the position of full time substitute teacher.  Sarah is trained at the Infant Community level (Denver) and Primary (Minneapolis).  She has an M.Ed. from Loyola University Maryland and a B.S. in environment, textiles, and design from the University of Wisconsin. She has classroom experience at all levels from Infant Community to Middle School, has directed a parent-infant class, served as the Primary training course assistant to Molly O’Shaughnessy in Minneapolis for seven years, and has spoken and written about Montessori in both home and school settings.

We’ll also be joined by the Moudrys’ three children:                 , and         . The family is planning to relocate to Houston in August and to join us for the start up of the new school year.  I invite you to give the Moudrys a warm welcome to the Post Oak community.


A letter from James Moudry:
I am excited to join the Post Oak community for the great undertaking of the Post Oak High School.  Having worked with the Middle School faculty and talked with students at POS over the past three years, it is easy to see that the graduates are ready for incredible work and how prepared they are to make their mark in the world.  The anticipation of the Post Oak High School brings with it wonderful opportunities to develop together an environment that builds on the foundation and preparation already in place to create a capstone for the school. 
For my part, I am glad to join such a positive, grounded, and forward-looking school community.  Everyone I have encountered at POS and in Houston has been gracious and warm­—though the warmth may have just been the heat of the summer!  As my family gets our feet on the ground in August, we are ready to embrace the POS community and to orient to our new hometown!  Thank you to the Post Oak faculty and staff for welcoming us to the school.      
 —James Moudry,  Middle School Director & High School Principal


The Ideal Post Oak School

As in the Weekly Post, May 21, 2010.
by John Long, Head of School

What would the ideal Post Oak School look like? That question has been at the crux of recent school improvement efforts.  Seven years ago, we began to offer a series of classes for prospective parents as a part of the enrollment process. Since then, retention rates for rising elementary students have been at all-time highs, and upper school numbers have grown. because of this enrollment demand, the school opened a new lower elementary class two years ago, and in august will open a new upper elementary class. 

During the same time period, the school completed the rigorous accreditation process of the Independent Schools association of the Southwest (ISAS). Twenty separate committees  comprised of faculty, administration, trustees and parents examined every aspect of the school’s operations, and produced a self-study (2005) that was an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses. Once ISAS accepted our self-study, the association dispatched an evaluation team to visit Post oak. The team’s report praised the school for “visible fidelity to its mission,” and unequivocally recommended Post oak for accreditation (2006). The report included both commendations for the school’s strengths, and recommendations for improvement.

The self-study, the ISAS report, and our recent enrollment growth have given faculty, administration, and board a full agenda. Some changes have already been implemented, but other issues are more long-term, involving greater complexity and expense.The board of trustees entered the current school year with strategic planning on the table, anticipating the need to expand current facilities in order to accommodate enrollment growth and enable new program initiatives, such as a music studio, a teacher training center, and a parenting center.

Before finalizing a plan, the board invited consultant John Littleford to help solicit feedback from a variety of Post Oak stakeholders. last october, Littleford met with small groups of parents, faculty, staff and alumni, and reported his findings to the board and senior administration. most of the conversations dealt with the already-known issues, but one surprise emerged: ”Why doesn’t Post oak have a high school?”  

In many ways, it was the right time for the school to consider this seminal question. by every measure of operational stability—including enrollment, financial standing, and parent satisfaction—the school is in a position of great strength. In addition, it’s been 10 years since other communities around the country began extending Montessori education into the secondary level. Of particular interest is the Montessori High School in Cleveland, Ohio, which opened two years ago after five years in development.  

“Why doesn’t Post oak have a high school?”  The board took the question seriously, appointing trustee Stuart Dow to head a committee to explore the issues. Dow, who was the founding head of Houston’s Emery high School, and Post oak trustee Windi Grimes accompanied Post Oak Head of School John Long on a trip to Cleveland to observe firsthand the Montessori High School in action.

They returned not only excited by the character and quality of the program, but intrigued by the possibility of creating a comparable school in Houston.  The committee set to work crafting a vision statement for the Post Oak high School, one modeled on the Cleveland school.  The potential high school would be located in the Houston Museum District in order to promote partnerships between students and experts from area museums, universities and medical center institutions. The school would also become Houston’s fifth International Baccalaureate Program (IB).

To assess the practical details of the high school initiative, the committee moved in several directions. It continued to investigate other montessori high schools. It contacted nationally-known private schools that have multiple campuses to learn from their experiences. and it formed a financial subcommittee to develop a multi-year, pro-forma, business plan to predict the costs of such a venture.

Finally, and critically, the board wished to explore in greater depth parent interest in Post oak high School. after interviewing several market research firms, we invited John Littleford to return. over a two day period, littleford met with 65 parents in small groups, and Stuart Dow met with eighteen more. Despite some on-going questions regarding certain particulars (such as size, sports, etc.), Littleford’s conclusion was that there is strong parent support for this initiative, enough for the high school to succeed—if the board and administration are ready, willing, and able to do the required work. 

On May 11, the board convened a special meeting to evaluate all of the information it had gathered about the high school, within the context of the other outstanding strategic initiatives. The discussion was thorough and wide-ranging. This is the board at work, assessing the long-term best interests of the school, in light of its mission, considering both immediate and long-range fiscal implications, and imagining the school from the perspective of the future children of our current students.  In short, the board decided to pursue a Post oak high School—and at the same time to address the needs of the current facility.  This decision reflects a powerful consensus to move forward with a cohesive and comprehensive vision of the ideal Post Oak School, serving children from walking to the onset of young adulthood.  In order to do so well, the school will pursue initiatives to train Montessori teachers as well as Montessori parents. Furthermore, there is a commitment to maintaining the scale of the school, accommodating projected growth on the current campus while developing a high school of 120 students on a separate Museum District campus.

You will have many practical questions in the days ahead. Board and administration know that the devil is in the details. know now that this is the starting point: board and administration are committed to do this work for your children and for your children’s children, and realize that there is much to be done. This decision marks the culmination of a year’s work, and represents the beginning of the next phase. and know this, too: your help will be needed.

© John Long and The Post Oak School


Post Oak High School?

As in the Weekly Post, April 29, 2010.
By John Long, Head of School

School consultant John Littleford returned to Post Oak last week to explore that question.  Littleford met with six groups of parents over a two-day period, and POS trustee Stuart Dow met with another. Altogether, 85 parents joined the discussions. This was not a sales pitch for a Post Oak high school, but rather, an effort to discern the depth of support for an idea that first emerged in parent focus groups this past fall, and to hear both what parents like about that idea as well as their concerns.

For a taste of parent responses, here are several e-mails that I received in the days before and after Littleford’s visit:
Dear John: 
When I first got the flyer about the Post Oak High School, I was very intrigued. I have three kids in Primary, so I have a very special interest if this high school endeavor comes into fruition. I went to the meeting today headed by John Littleford. His first question was, “How interested are you in having a Post Oak High School?” All the parents were then asked to voice out what they like about the idea of a Post Oak High School and their concerns. As I sat there listening, I suddenly had a realization. I send my kids to Post Oak School because I believe in the Montessori philosophy of raising a child. Why can’t I just let them continue to grow in this learning environment? I got this intense fear that if this Post Oak High School does not happen, I might have to send my kids to a traditional classroom with its day in and day out drudgery and humdrum.  Maybe we should rephrase Mr. Littleford’s question. “We are going to have a Post Oak High School in 2012, what can we, as a community, do to make this happen?” I see the creation of the Post Oak High School as the beginning of something beautiful… A challenge that we should all take for our kids’  future… The time has come... Let’s take the first step and move forward.  
Sincerely, Amelia Ng
You may have already heard this speech by Ken Robinson.  If not, give it a listen (link below).  Bonus is he has a wonderful sense of humor.I think you will find it on point with your work at Post Oak and consideration of a high school program. 
Best, Aaron Thomas (          's dad) 

I am personally very interested in this. I’d love to be able to send             there—we’ve grown to love Montessori in general and POS in particular, and to despair of our options for high school—there seems to be a shortage (as usual, the result one way or the other of state intervention—whenever there is a shortage you can bet on this) of good high schools. And the ones available are difficult to get into, without politics—and suppose we got 
            into             ...the idea of the conventional schooling, extreme competitiveness, too much homework, etc., does not entice me. (Though I like a lot of its rigor and the emphasis on classical education—Greek, Latin, etc.) I honestly think I might just quit working and homeschool              at ninth grade if we have no POS High. I am not as negative on homeschooling as most people are—I think it can be excellent; but I personally think a good private Montessori school is a better choice. I’d be happy to participate or give any input if the committee needs it. 
Stephen Kinsella
Beth,            , and I have had some great discussions over the last few days.  Beth will hopefully be at one of the Littleford sessions in the morning.For me, this is the bottom line:I think Lauren is a fantastic human being, with a good heart, a real thirst for knowledge, and a great drive to make things better. I credit POS as much as anything else for her ideals, self confidence, and innate ambition.Ever since you introduced us to the Cleveland example, with Lauren and other future students in mind, I can’t think of a more worthwhile effort to work toward. We need students to make it work. You can count on us.I commit today:  at least $           toward the POHS capital campaign. 
Frank Apollo
John Littleford’s conclusion? Post Oak has the parent support needed to launch a high school if the board and administration are ready, willing and able to do so.  Littleford has worked with literally thousands of schools over the past 25 years, including a number that were evaluating the addition of a high school.  He said that he rarely sees schools with such enthusiastic support from its parents – and that he rarely sees schools with such a low level of complaint or criticism.  He believes, based on what he heard and what he has observed long-term about schools, that a high school would only strengthen Post Oak.

Were there concerns raised?  Yes, by some parents – though most of the concerns were more in the manner of questions about the high school program that appeared to be answerable.  The most deep-seated concerns seemed to be from people who feared we migh lose our focus on the existing program – Infant Community through Middle School; that we have issues already on the table and facility enhancements that need to be pursued.  Not surprisingly, the question of how we would pay for all of this was a concern form many.

So what’s the bottom line? The board is awaiting Littleford’s formal, written summary, and is also in the process of completing a pro forma business plan for the high school, in order to understand the financial dimensions of the project. It is also considering how the effort to start a high school might impact other school priorities, and readdressing the conclusions of the study done last year on the potential for a Post Oak capital campaign.   In an upcoming special session the board will discuss the high school question, determine whether to go forward, and if so, what the next steps would be.
We’ll keep you informed.
© John Long and The Post Oak School


The Post Oak High School?

As in the special insert to the Weekly Post, April 8, 2010.

Responding to strong interest expressed by Post Oak parents and others, our Board of Trustees is exploring the feasibility of creating a Post Oak High School. You will ultimately determine whether it happens.

Post Oak High School: The Vision
by John Long, Head of School

In a beautiful old building in the US’ fourth largest city, in the heart of a vibrant corridor housing some of the world’s foremost artistic, cultural, medical and scientific institutions,   a group of young adults is sitting around trading ideas. Contributing to the discussion is a  a renowned molecular biologist. A museum curator. A Fortune 500 CEO.  These people are students. In total, there are only one hundred of them here. Graduate students at some small, elite liberal arts college, consulting with specilized advisors as they prepare doctoral theses? 

No. These are students of The Post Oak  High School. They are young people engaged in a four-year program of study that, of itself, will be one of the most meaningful and unforgettable experiences of their lives. And they’ll leave with a diploma that represents rigorous and highly regarded qualification for entry in to the world’s best universities: the International Baccalaureate Diploma. 

This is our vision for The Post Oak High School. Our model and partner as we contemplate creating it is the Montessori High School at University Circle in Cleveland, Ohio. We envision situating POHS in Houston’s Museum District—fertile soil for the interdisciplinary partnerships that will be central to this school’s mission. A mission, by the way, that has always been Post Oak’s: to guide and nurture each young person—intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

Post Oak High School: Planning
Creating a high school is a monumental undertaking and Post Oak’s Trustees are committed to thorough analysis before starting down this path. That said, we have  the resources, experience and leadership to credibly contemplate such a venture. 

And Houston—with its size and diversity—has the cultural, artistic and entrepreneurial infrastructure to support a network of partnerships that could present students with unparalleled opportunity. The path we take (or whether we make the journey at all) has yet to be determined. But the destination is clear. The ultimate goal of this project would be to offer families the kind of  high school we heard them ask for during Post Oak’s October planning retreat: a high school in which students could work in an environment that cultivates intrinsic motivation and collaboration; one whose  diploma positions students for acceptance into  highly selective universities; a high school whose mission is to prepare students to be productive world citizens. 

If this project proceeds, we anticipate POHS’ first classes in Fall 2012. As the Board and administration continue with planning efforts, more detailed information will be distributed   to parents and posted at postoakhighschool.org.

Frequently asked questions
Here are the questions we’ve heard people ask most often, but they’re only part of a much  larger discussion. To learn more, or to join the conversation, visit www. postoakhighschool.org or http://blog.postoakhighschool.org [www.postoakschool.org or http://thepostoakhighschool.blogspot.com] after Friday, April 18.
Is there a projected timeline for opening the Post Oak High School? If the decision is made to proceed with this project, we anticipate first classes in Fall 2012 with Post Oak High School’s first class graduating in May 2016.

Who will attend the Post Oak High School?  POHS will not be for everyone. For the right student it will be an extraordinary opportunity, offering a four-year program not available at any other Houston high school. Students who are self-motivated, responsible and disciplined are best equipped to succeed at Post Oak High School.

Where will students come from?  The Post Oak School has the potential to feed 20 graduates into POHS annually, and students who successfully complete middle school at POS will be granted admission. POHS will also admit qualified students from other private Montessori schools and HISD Montessori magnets. A small percentage of students will be promising candidates from traditional schools. Total estimated POHS enrollment is one
hundred students.

Will POS graduates automatically be admitted?  Yes. Students who’ve successfully completed 8th grade at POS will be granted admission (POS students enrolled in primary or higher since 2004 are potential candidates).

Will scholarships and/or financial aid be offered?   Post Oak spends 8 – 10% of its annual operating budget on financial aid to families who need it, a practice that POHS will adopt. Additionally, our Trustees are considering the feasibility of budgeting funds for merit-based high school scholarships. Watch for details as this plan develops.

Will POHS admit students with learning differences? What accommodations/modifications will be offered to such students?   Among Post Oak School’s current graduates are students with learning differences; these students are well prepared for success at POHS. Accommodations made for them at POS will also be available at POHS. While POHS will not have special resources for students with learning differences, we’ll have the flexibility to adapt for students with mild to moderate needs—provided those students have learned compensation strategies to help themselves and actively seek the support they need from teachers and peers.

What can students expect from POHS relative to college admissions?  Can a Montessori school, with its lack of emphasis on grades and standardized tests, position students for acceptance at top universities?  Eventually, POHS will speak for itself to college admission officers. Initially, the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, which represent a well-defined level of achievement, will have greater recognition. A defining hallmark of the IB program is its rigorous assessment. All subjects are evaluated both internally (by the school) and externally (by independent examiners around the world). The result is an objective standard that is recognized in 75 countries by more than 2000 universities as high-level qualification for university admission. Consistent with Montessori principles, these assessments are used to communicate achievement after-the-fact, and not as incentives to motivate or reward students’ performance.

How will THIS school—small, new, unproven—affect students’ attractiveness as candidates?  The IB program is well known and highly regarded by colleges and universities in Europe, Asia and Australia as well as across the United States. Although Post Oak High School will be a new school, its graduates will benefit from the recognition earned by IB graduates around the world for the past 40 years.

Will there be sports at POHS?  Sports fields will not be part of the POHS campus. But that doesn’t mean sports won’t be part of students’ experience. Like the rest of their POHS experience, sports and extra-curricular activities will be shaped by students’ own interests. This school will have an Athletic Director as well as a Community Liaison, adults whose purpose it is to coach, facilitate, and connect Post Oak High School students with outside resources that best match what they want to pursue.

How about other extracurriculars?  POHS’ network of focused interdisciplinary partnerships will present students with unique extra-curricular opportunities. They will learn from professionals who excel in a wide variety of cultural, artistic, educational, scientific and medical endeavors. For one successful model of this, see the “X-term” programs offered by Montessori High School at University Circle. (www.montessorihighschool.org/student-x-terms.htm).

How will the Post Oak High School be funded?  POHS will be self-sustaining once past the start-up phase. Initially, Post Oak will support the high school while it gets off the ground. The board is developing a pro forma business plan to determine the limits of that support, ensuring the fiscal integrity of The Post Oak School as a whole.

How will this project affect the existing school?  The addition of a high school will enhance Post Oak’s current program, extending our work further into the developmental spectrum. Dr. Montessori’s work addresses four six-year stages of development from birth to adulthood; a high school would extend our work to the end of the third stage. Expanding our understanding of the spectrum of human development will deepen our work with younger children.

How will having a split campus impact the current school? The high school?  The experience of other schools with two campuses suggests how this might impact Post Oak. On the plus side, locating the high school on a separate campus would give it a distinct identity, and would give continuing students a special transition to anticipate. A separate campus would also make the high school more attractive to candidates applying for admission from outside.

On the other hand, the school will need to work hard to maintain a cohesive culture for students, faculty and parents. Some operational efficiencies will be lost: maintaining separate campuses will entail duplication of some personnel and resources. (While the business and development offices work from a single location, reception and admission will be staffed on each campus.) A high school division director would be appointed whether the campuses were separate or joined.

How will this school’s size affect students’ experience?  POHS’ small population opens students to real inter-age relationships and collaboration. It enables the school to manage focused partnerships that exposes students to meaningful involvement with Museum District professionals. At a high school level, these students will engage the Real World—and do real work—in ways that adolescents typically don’t. The experience will shape young adults who can begin early on to develop deep commitments to specific interests…interests that often become a life’s work. (During our discovery process, Post Oak Trustees heard stories from other schools that illustrate this beautifully.)

What will make Post Oak High School special and different?  The Post Oak High School will be one of only six [a handful of] Houston schools offering the IB program, and the only one presenting that program in a Montessori context. Students will have access to interdisciplinary partnerships with the kinds of institutions and enterprises that can only exist in a city with Houston’s scale and diversity (the world’s largest medical center is one example). The school’s size makes it uniquely attractive. The Post Oak High School will expose students to opportunities that by their very nature are unparalleled at other schools; opportunities most students must create for themselves if they are to have them at all.

Where can I learn more?  Our Board of Trustees has taken steps to assess the viability of creating a Post Oak High School and to formulate a potential plan. The Board is working hard to assess our community’s interest in this project, so plans are evolving. Next Friday, April 16 postoakhighschool.org will expand to include a blog devoted to this conversation. Check the site www.postoakschool.org and the [this] blog for comments and emerging details.

How can I get involved?  School consultant John Littleford moderated Post Oak’s strategic planning retreat in October, and listened as many parents expressed interest in creating a high school. He will return on April 21-22, convening small parent groups to more fully assess what level of interest exists for this idea. Please visit www.postoakhighschool.org today to sign up for one of these sessions.

Join the conversation that will determine what happens.
At a Post Oak strategic planning retreat last October, many parents  expressed interest in creating a high school. On April 21-22 , we’ll meet again to discuss whether it is an idea whose time has come.


To Launch a High School

As in the Weekly Post, March 26, 2010.
by John Long, Head of School

Walking through his Iowa corn field Ray Kinsella hears a voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” Soon Ray plows under his corn and builds a baseball field, a Field of Dreams.  Ray was a visionary lone wolf and a spontaneous risk-taker.
Slightly misquoted, “If you build it, they will come,” has been used ever since as a rallying cry by intuitive entrepreneurs, and it describes one style of planning.  However, a school’s board of trustees cannot act with such abandon, and in considering whether to launch a high school, Post Oak’s board has been more measured.  

Parents expressed strong interest in a high school during the October strategic planning retreat (See “Post Oak 2.0” in the October 29 Weekly Post.)  Since then the board has taken a series of steps to assess the viability of a Post Oak High School.  

It dispatched a committee to visit Montessori High School at University Circle in Cleveland, where they observed the high school in action and met with its leadership team.  The committee returned to Houston and delivered an enthusiastic report to the board, recommending that Post Oak base its high school on the Cleveland model.  The committee then drafted a vision statement which the board adopted in principal, and which is now being further refined.

Acting on its fiduciary responsibility, the board is developing a pro forma business plan for the high school, to assess its fiscal viability.  Post Oak is on solid ground financially and has the resources to contemplate this project, but the board is aware that an effort of this scope entails risk, and wants to understand the dimensions of the school’s exposure.

Adopting the Cleveland model would result in a separate, Museum District campus for the high school. After putting out a call nationally, a committee of the board contacted a number of headmasters who have experience with split campuses.  This group sought out the pros and cons of such an arrangement, and were encouraged by the message they heard.

Parents have asked me, “What can we do?”  

The board’s next step is to determine your depth of interest in the high school project.  School consultant John Littleford is returning to Houston in April and will spend two days at Post Oak, April 21 and 22.  It is opera week.  There will be intense activity here on campus.  And we will want to meet with small groups of parents to hear your views about a Post Oak High School.  If you wish to be included, please respond to me (johnlong@postoakschool.org).

I know this letter needs a concluding paragraph.  That conclusion will be written by our actions over the next 60 days.  Look for the publication of the finished “Vision Statement” for the Post Oak High School in the weeks to come.  That will tell the story of what will make this high school both unique and extraordinary.  And we’ll keep you informed of progress as we move forward.
© John Long and the Post Oak School