Tempe Union High School District will move forward to explore creating a Montessori high school.

Superintendent Ken Baca said he will put together a committee after the public response at an information meeting Jan. 11. Between 60 and 75 people attended.

"The majority of the people in there were from Tempe Union," Baca said. "That's a good indication of the interest in our community of looking at the Montessori experience."

There were also "many, many parents from outside the district," Tempe Union spokeswoman Linda Littell said in an email.

Montessori classrooms provide a popular, hands-on approach to education. Students are often grouped in multi-age clusters. They are taught using the Socratic method - with long discussions about topics and teachers acting as facilitators. Students don't use textbooks, but rather read and research using literature and other sources.

Being outdoors is another "key component" to the Montessori method, one reason the school-community group that started looking at this option visited a private Montessori school in the Midwest that operates a farm.

The district's presentation from last week will be posted on the district's website, hopefully within a week, Baca said.

"The committee will try to plan what a Montessori school might look like, as well as try to meet the needs at the middle school arena," Baca said. That could mean partnerships with surrounding districts, charter schools, or private schools.

"As a public education district, we are able to explore all types of partnerships to make this a viable option for parents and their students," he said.

Baca said the district could do a standalone school, a school within a school or a school on "a major university campus." The district would need to recruit a staff, train them in Montessori and Socratic methods, adopt a curriculum and form the "urban" partnerships with museums, libraries, transportation systems and others, necessary to fit in the Montessori method.

"We're not going to rush into it. We want to make sure it's well thought out and well planned, that it's not cost prohibitive," he said. "In order for the board to approve the creation of such a school, those are things that will need to be addressed."

It would not happen by next school year, Baca said.

While there are many district, charter and private Montessori schools in Arizona and across the country, there are only 16 Montessori high schools in the nation, Baca said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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