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New management team takes over Minden Montessori

by Linda Hiller

Minden Montessori Children’s World has a new management consulting team, and those involved say they feel like they’re embarking on a great and worthwhile adventure.

Carson Valley residents Linda and Garry Leiss, have joined forces with Arlene and John Catalano of Southern California to take over the 3-year-old preschool and daycare center.

Linda and Arlene have known each other for 40 years, both graduating from Morningside High School in Inglewood, Calif., in 1960. When the Leisses heard that the Minden Montessori might be available, they thought of Arlene, who already owns three Montessori schools and has been involved with the company since 1974.

“It’s an exciting concept, and I’ve seen so many children flourish under it,” Arlene said.

Kathy Jones-Tynes is still the director of Minden Montessori, and the new management team said no staff changes are planned, although they did say they are on the lookout for Montessori-trained teachers, and will need them if the enrollment grows as they hope it will.

The school has a capacity for 120 students and currently enrolls around 70. The new team hopes to increase that enrollment through information to the public, community events at the center and a fall open house.

n How it’s unique. Montessori education was founded in 1906 on the studies of Italian educator, Dr. Maria Montessori, who developed a “prepared environment,” which helps the child develop according to his or her capabilities. Montessori education emphasizes independence, non-competition and self-motivation, which is hoped to result in a child who is a life-long learner.

Minden Montessori Children’s World preschool is for children between the ages of 2 and 5, with “family grouping” or mixed-aged classes. Among the key concepts utilized at any Montessori school, mixed-age grouping is thought to encourage children to learn at their own pace, with their own individual brain development, rather than forcing learning before the child is ready.

One of the other key Montessori concepts, Catalano said, is concrete learning, or hands-on manipulation. The school has a wide variety of unique learning toys designed specifically for Montessori and aimed at “play that teaches.”

The third important Montessori concept is emphasis on teacher qualifications, Catalano said.

“We look for teachers who have an education background and experience,” Catalano said. “Many will have local credentials as well as Montessori certification.”

Schools for Montessori teachers are scattered all over the country, she said, with the closest one in Sacramento, Calif.

The higher pay for Montessori teachers may result in slightly higher prices for tuition, but it also reduces the transiency that is inherent in any low-paying job, she said.

Catalano said Minden Montessori is in the middle of the application process to make the kindergarten state-approved.

n The expert’s input. Arlene Catalano is a former public school teacher who became interested in Montessori schools in 1974 when she enrolled her daughter, Lori, who was 2 at the time, in a Montessori preschool. She soon saw the positive effects the environment had on her daughter.

“Prior to putting Lori in there, I had misconceptions about Montessori,” Arlene said. “I thought you either had to be very rich or very smart to go there. I didn’t want my daughter to be pushed into early education, but I didn’t want her denied the opportunity to learn, either.”

Catalano was a single mom at the time, and in 1976, when Lori’s Montessori school was going to be sold, in desperation, Arlene asked about buying it to keep it open. Through “some miracle,” she bought the school for around $50,000, stretching her teacher’s salary for the next many years to pay the rent.

Eventually, Catalano got her Montessori training, went to work teaching in the Montessori system and hasn’t looked back since. Lori, now 28, went on to academic success, Arlene said, and is now an editor for the television sho, Entertainment Tonight.

n Local involvement. The Leisses have two children – Gregg, who graduated from Douglas High School in 1987, and Stacy, a 1988 DHS graduate. Gregg and his wife Tina have one daughter, 11-month-old Shannon.

Linda is manager of the Carson Valley Market and Union 76 Gas Station, and Garry is with Prudential Nevada Realty, having been in real estate for 15 years.

Before coming to the Carson Valley in 1982, the Leisses owned a general store in Bridgeport, Calif. Their move to the Valley was for their children, and they say they’ve always wanted to do things to improve a child’s world.

Garry said his interest in the Minden Montessori project will involve making the building more “street friendly.”

“A lot of people tell us they drive right by and don’t know that a Montessori preschool is here,” he said. “We want to fancy it up outside a bit, and maybe put up some new signs to let people know we’re here.”

Tuition at Minden Montessori depends on how many days and hours per day the child will attend, but the range is roughly from $30 to $125 per week. Daycare is also available. The center is located at 1695 County Road. For more information, call 782-9180.