True grit: Largest donation in MMS history honors Julie Margolis and Darlene Spangler

MMS interim co-directors Darlene Spangler and Julie Margolis

MMS interim co-directors Darlene Spangler and Julie Margolis

A local family has taken the traditional end of year teacher gift to a whole new level with a $30,000 contribution to Mountaineer Montessori School, 308 20th Street. The donation marks the single largest gift to MMS in its 38-year-year history. 

Some $20,000 was given to the Mountaineer Montessori scholarship program in honor of Julie Margolis and Darlene Spangler, long-time MMS faculty members who served as interim directors in 2010-2013 during a leadership transition at the school.  The remaining $10,000 is earmarked for a faculty appreciation fund.

The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous said, “Through sheer grit and determination Julie and Darlene managed to not only keep the school together, they were integral in making it what it is today. They worked countless hours for minimal rewards and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

“We hope our gift inspires others to dig a little deeper to help less privileged students enjoy the benefits of a Mountaineer Montessori education and to support the school’s dedicated faculty and staff,” the donor said.

Meeting the challenge through grit and determination

Margolis and Spangler are widely credited successfully with steering the school through a  leadership transition. The teachers volunteered as co-directors in May 2010 and worked as a tireless team to sustain and expand the school’s programs, faculty and enrollment.

“Without Julie and Darlene, our school might not be here today,” the donor said.

With their leadership, faculty, board members, students and parents came together to forge a new chapter in the school’s history, emerging from the transition with a new permanent Head of School, Dana Gilliland; the addition of a middle school; establishment of a scholarship fund; implementation of a powerful marketing and fundraising program; and a projected fall 2014 enrollment of 120, up from 82 in 2011.

Margolis, who continues in the role as co-director, has served on the MMS staff for 18 years, four in administration and 14 teaching in the areas of advanced mathematics and physical education.  She is a former public school teacher and computer programmer.  She earned a B.S. from the University of Vermont and M.S. from Penn State University. Julie and her husband, Jay Margolis, are the parents of four children, two of whom are MMS alumni.

Spangler has played many important roles in her 18 years at MMS, including teacher, administrator and leader.  She is currently an elementary specialist working with advanced students in novel studies. Previously, she spent 14 years as an assistant teacher in the advanced elementary class. She also served as the school’s assistant administrator for 13 years and interim co-director for three years. Spangler earned her B.A. in English from Duke University. Darlene and her husband, Reed Spangler, are the parents of two MMS alumni.

Julie Margolis, Darlene and Reed Spangler

Julie Margolis and Darlene and Reed Spangler

“This generous gift will open doors of opportunity to children in our community,” said Gilliland. “We are thrilled that more deserving students will have the opportunity to experience a Montessori education,” said Gilliland.

Gift honors “extraordinary service”

“On behalf of the MMS Board of Directors, I wish to express our deep appreciation for this generous gift. It is a wonderful way to honor Julie and Darlene for their extraordinary service to our school,” said Harry Bell. “As an independent school, we receive no government funding.  Without support from businesses, foundations and individual donors, we could not offer the quality and range of programs for which MMS is known.”

The donation comes at pivotal time for Mountaineer Montessori, which is finalizing “MMS@50,” a strategic plan that will guide the school to its 50th anniversary.  The plan, to be announced at the school’s annual meeting, lays out an inspiring agenda for expanding and enriching the school’s academic programs, faculty, facilities, enrollment and grade levels served in coming years.

“A strong financial base and partnerships with businesses and individuals committed to the future of West Virginia will enable MMS to lead as an education innovator for the next 50 years,” Bell said. “This donation will enhance two key strategies – expanding scholarships and supporting a high quality faculty – necessary to make our plan a reality.”

Julie Margolis and her family (even the dog!) get their "M" on.

Julie Margolis and her family (even the dog!) get their “M” on.

Elements of “MMS@50” are already being implemented, he noted.  Recruitment and training of faculty to serve its expanding enrollment, creation of a new MMS Middle School (the only one of its kind in West Virginia), site selection for a larger facility; development of an outdoor community classroom and environmental learning center; and formation of strategic collaborations with  Montessori schools in other parts of the state, are currently in process.

About MMS

Mountaineer Montessori School, 308 20th Street, is the oldest, largest and most established Montessori school in West Virginia. MMS has served an estimated 1,000 Charleston students since its founding in 1976 by education pioneer Mary McKown. Starting in August, MMS will offer a full range of academic and cultural programs, including a full-time on-site learning specialist, to 120 students ages 3 to 15.  All lead faculty members are certified by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS), the two most recognized Montessori training programs world-wide.

For more information, call 304/342-7870.

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