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New Leader Taking Over at V.I. Montessori School

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Feb. 13, 2008 — A new leader will assume the headship at the V.I. Montessori School come July 1, just in time to oversee the launch of a new middle- and upper-school curriculum.
Peter J. Samaranayake, Ph.D, known as "Dr. Sam," will take over for Shournagh McWeeney, who has been at the school for 31 years, and who will continue on in the role of director of the Montessori Program, providing curriculum leadership for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
The changes are part of a master plan that includes a capital campaign to augment facilities and programs as the school strives to double its enrollment from 200 to 400.
In addition to heading the school, Samaranayake will hold the title of director of the International Baccalaureate Program, known as the IB, which will be instituted beginning in Sept. A native of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, Samaranayake speaks several languages and has taught in, and led, IB programs at schools around the world. He currently runs a charter school in California.
"He's a bible on the IB program," said Michael Bornn, president of the V.I. Montessori School's board of trustees. "And the globe is his residence. It's easier to say where he hasn't been."
The IB was developed in Europe in response to a need to institute educational standards across cultural lines for families of diplomats and businesspeople who moved frequently. It is regarded as rigorous, offering coursework equivalent to some college and university-level classes, similar in rigor to Advanced Placement courses.
The marriage of the Montessori philosophy with the IB program is ideal, McWeeney said. Montessori is predicated on a child's curiosity directing his or learning, as opposed to a more traditional teacher-directed model.
"They complement each other, because the whole idea with the IB is … all the subjects are interrelated," McWeeney said. "If you are studying a particular novel in English, it would probably be picked up in history class, geography and social studies."
Montessori will inaugurate the IB program in grades 7 through 10 starting in September. The school, which has been progressively adding grades, currently stops in 10th. An 11th grade will not be added until September 2009, according to Bornn, because there are too few students to support the addition. The school will work to set up a home-school curriculum for the two students who currently comprise the 10th grade, Bornn said, although both are apparently considering boarding schools.
The board is confident that the current ninth-grade enrollment will be sustained, if not increased, and will support the addition of an 11th grade by September 2009, he said. Currently there are six students in ninth grade.
As for the expense associated with beginning the IB — including the hiring of trained teachers, paying examiner's fees in accordance with testing compliance and other subscription costs — Bornn is confident the school will find the resources.
"On the one hand, it can be a very costly program," he said. "On the other hand, it can be reasonable, and it depends on how you execute it. It teaches creativity and independence. The standards are uniform, but how you get there is left up to the individual school."
Montessori is currently recruiting teachers for its IB program. However, not all students will graduate with an IB diploma. For those suited to a less-rigorous course load, there is Montessori and Middle States accreditation in place for diploma purposes.
Bornn believes the school's offerings, combined with what he described as an "aggressive financial-aid program," will enable it to grow and fill the new buildings planned as part of the capital campaign. The campaign is still in its "silent phase," he said, declining to offer too many details because the board must first approve the master plan, which he said it is expected to do in a few weeks.
The school is in its 45th year and is located on the Cowpet Bay road on the East End. The public is invited to hear a presentation on the IB program from Samaranayake at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the school. Samaranayake is in town for a brief acclimation period before assuming his post in July.
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