There have been 15 years of constant work in favor of Montessori education in the public education system, working directly with dozens of public schools, teachers, guides, students and, also, politicians. But, for the educator and co-founder of the New School Institute (INE), Ana Maria Garcia Blancoit was time to step down as executive director of the nonprofit organization.
It does not separate itself from the Montessori public school project, from that accompaniment, as they call it, to schools that seek to transform their teaching methods. However, he noted that, now, he will have the space to attend to other initiatives that are strongly linked to his mission of supporting and strengthening public education..
“We are at a good point in the project. The INE has grown, it has also delved into issues of the century that we are very excited about, so we are in a good moment,” said Garcia Blanco.
At the top of the list are his roles on the committee of the Educational Decentralization and Regional Autonomy Initiative of the Education deparment (Idear) and in the president’s advisory commission Joe Biden on the Promotion of Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunities for Hispanics, as well as attending schools that are born from community movements that are “rescuing their right to education.”
Garcia Blanco was appointed to the presidential advisory commission in 2022, which became a milestone, since it is the first time that Puerto Rico has a space in said entity. There, the educator explained, her priority is to raise three causes: fight for a decent salary for teachers in the Puerto Rican school system, ensure that University of Puerto Rico (UPR) obtain the budget it needs and make the decentralization of the Department of Education happen.
He maintained that his presence on the advisory commission is combined with the fact that the federal Secretary of Education, Michael Cardonais Puerto Rican, to give greater visibility to the island’s educational sector within the spheres of the federal government.
“It is a unique situation that we have never seen and I don’t know if we will see it again in good time. These are moments where planets come together, they are historic moments and we must take advantage. We have a federal Secretary of Education who is very interested in Puerto Rico. So interested that he has a staff stationed in Puerto Rico. They support, they have an interest and I believe that having asked me, who is from the island, to be on a commission, also reflects an interest in Puerto Rico being at the table,” he stated.
“The committees of the commission are considering holding meetings in Puerto Rico to see first-hand the concerns that there may be about the University of Puerto Rico and, also, to address first-hand the concerns that exist about the ‘issues’ of a living wage for teachers and school staffadvancement.
Before the organization, made up of educators from all over the country, he already presented the proposal that has been worked on to decentralize the educational system, he noted.
The former director of the Juan Ponce de Leon school, in Guaynabo, holds the position of community representative on Idear’s executive committee. He assures that it is a “huge role”, since it must bring the voice of all school communities to the conversations.
Since last semester, he commented, there have been conversations with the Montessori public school community around the decentralization of schools and how they will be inserted in the plans to create autonomous regions in Puerto Rico that operate as local educational agencies (LEAs, for their part). acronym in English), according to the regulations of the Federal Department of Education.
Garcia Blanco highlighted that there is nothing concrete yet, but meetings and assemblies have taken place with representation from the majority of Montessori schools.
“Right now, a proposal is being put together that they are considering submitting to the State. Things are being thought about such as that linked LEAs could begin to appear, that are Montessorian, so that we do not have to be in government units that have two different methodologies, curricular and governance methodology and presence of families.“, indicated Garcia Blanco, but reiterated that a decision has not yet been made.
The change of command at the INE has been happening for years. The preparation of the new executive director, Jennyffer Otero Arroyoto assume the position, began from the very beginnings of the entity, when he was part of the working groups that dreamed of creating an organization that would help strengthen Montessori education on the island.
“The 15 years have been about learning, reevaluating ourselves, reflecting on what we do. A colleague says that we have just turned 15 and we are like teenagers, we are looking at how we are going to serve better, what we want to give to the students and how we insert ourselves, as an institution, as an organization, dedicated to the preparation of teachers and the quality of the schoolsexpressed Otero Arroyo.
Currently, there are 58 public schools that practice the Montessori philosophy in the Department of Education, under the Auxiliary Secretariat of Montessori Education (SAEM). Together with the SAEM, the INE is working to integrate three to four new schools for the next school year, explained Otero Arroyo.
“We want to work to offer more Montessori public schools to Puerto Rico. We have been growing. If we talk about growth in schools, we have grown a lot in the center, in the metro area, in the east, but the west has also claimed its Montessori public school,” said the executive director. The first two public Montessori schools in the western region are located in Slabs and watery.
In addition to supporting these schools, Otero Arroyo highlighted that what they call “the INE in the west” has already been established. From a space in the Juana Rosario Carrero school, in Aguada, they offer the workshops that educators need to become Montessori guides, so that they do not have to travel to the headquarters, in Piedras Riverto be able to advance his studies, he declared.
“It’s like we say, the building for the INE in the west will come later because we already have the heart in the schools,” said Otero Arroyo.