Houston Independent School District School Board election for District 1 is headed for a runoff on December 9th. Below are side-by-side responses from both candidates regarding their views on Montessori and HISD Magnet schools. Since both Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet and the Montessori Pathway at Waltrip High School are District 1 schools, FOM felt it particularly important for constituents to understand the platforms and positions of both candidates.

  1. What experience or history do you have with Montessori? How familiar are you with the Montessori pedagogy?

Gretchen Himsl: I am very familiar with Montessori, or as familiar as you can be without having had a child in it.  I know teachers who teach in Montessori schools and families that have children in Montessori programs.  I also have a nephew in a Montessori school, not in HISD. I know the Montessori pedagogy is based on multi-year, self-directed learning and working with older students to achieve concept mastery. It is a teaching style that is focused on tactile learning.  I am in favor of families who have chosen Montessori for their children and completely support their decision.  I am glad they found and have access to that educational model for their children. 

 Elizabeth Santos:  I do not have any direct experience teaching in a Montessori environment; however, learning about Maria Montessori and her work was a part of my training to become an educator. I am familiar with the Montessori pedagogy. It is a constructivist framework wherein the student leads the learning process, with the teacher/adult as a guide. As a high school English teacher, everyday I work hard to ensure my students are driving what takes place in my classroom


  1. How familiar are you with the Montessori magnet school within HISD? Experience/ Views?

Gretchen: I am familiar with them and don’t have any students in them, but support them.  I recognize the Montessori programs have different teaching requirements, different student to teacher ratios and different licensing standards for that educational model.

Elizabeth:  I consider myself familiar with the Montessori magnet schools within HISD. I have had many friends and coworkers put their children in the Montessori schools


  1. Are you aware of the funding difference that is takes to provide a Montessori curriculum within HISD?

Gretchen:  Yes, I do know that Montessori education and certification takes more resources because of the teacher to student ratio and additional staffing and training required for that educational model. I understand that there are by definition different resources required for Montessori. 

 Elizabeth: I am aware that Montessori costs more due to the extra expenses of teachers’ aides, specialized materials, and other costs to implement Montessori with fidelity.


  1. Do you support magnet programs in HISD?  And if not, what alternatives do you propose? 

Gretchen: I absolutely support magnet programs in HISD.  They are a valuable feature of our public school system that provides choices in the learning environment for our HISD families and students.  I support the district’s evaluation of the magnet programs to make sure they are healthy and sustainable and make sure they are still appropriate for the communities and neighborhoods they are in.  I want to make sure we are giving the choices through magnet programs that those neighborhoods desire.  Also, I want to promote structural equality in the magnet process and deadlines and accessibility in the magnet application program. I would like to see improvements made on the access to the magnet opportunities for all families across the district.

ElizabethThe magnet program is a wonderful opportunity to provide educational experiences that serve the diverse interests of our diverse city. Every child needs to have something that drives them to go to school and make the best out of their time there.

When students aren’t challenged, when they are disinterested, when they are overtested and understimulated; they are at risk of underachieving, skipping school, or finding themselves flowing through the school-to-prison pipeline.

I attended and taught at the only HISD high school that has never had a magnet program, Sam Houston. I know what it’s like not to have that specialized draw for students. I don’t want to get rid of magnet programs because I know what it is like to be without one.

What we allow to happen to the neediest of our HISD family will ultimately be what determines the fate of all of our public schools. We need to shore up our neighborhood schools so they can become places we all would be comfortable sending our children. When that happens, magnet funding won’t be an issue because our enrollment numbers won’t be threatened by charter or private schools. When we build up the least among us, we build up ourselves.


  1. Would your position on any issue/magnet programs hurt the Montessori magnet programs and the growth of more Montessori magnet programs within HISD?

Gretchen:  No.

Elizabeth: No.

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