MMS Glass Classroom: A New Vision for Education in WV


Dr. Maria Montessori and students at the “glass classroom” held at the 1915 Pacific Panama International Exposition.

A century ago, tens of thousands of visitors to the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco got their first look at Montessori education when Dr. Maria Montessori organized the “glass classroom,” an actual Montessori school held at the Palace of Education and Social Economy.

Thousands of children applied to be students at this demonstration school; Helen Parkhurst, Dr. Montessori’s star teacher, was selected to lead the program (she later went on to found the prestigious Dalton School, which incorporated many Montessori principles, in New York.) The Glass Classroom was a powerful public education tool and raised awareness around the world of the benefits of this scientific approach to education.

As the centennial of the “Glass Classroom” approaches, Mountaineer Montessori School is launching a comprehensive campaign that will bring Montessori education into the community and the community into our school.  We’re planning experiential town halls and other events to raise awareness of the benefits of Montessori education among parents, educators, policy makers and business and community leaders. Our goal is to contribute to state-wide efforts to create “A New Vision for Education in West Virginia” and showcase the many ways the Montessori approach supports excellence and innovation in education.

Please watch for details and invitations to get involved in this history-making celebration and support transformation of education in West Virginia.

A New Vision for Education in West Virginia Public Schools


Senator Dan Foster, from left, MMS Co-Director Julie Margolis, MMS Board Member Jack Rogers, Newt Thomas, WV Board of Education President Gayle Manchin, Charles McElwee and MMS Head of School Dana Gilliland tour our school and share ideas for promoting innovation in education.

An exciting movement is underway to revitalize public education in West Virginia. S pearheaded by Charles McElwee, an attorney with Robinson & McElwee, a group of committed leaders and citizens from the spheres of education, politics, government, business, non-profit and philanthropy has been gathering and studying to review our education system from top to bottom and identify and implement changes to create learning environments that promote success for all students.

MMS is excited to be a part of these important efforts.

In November 2013, WV State School Board President Gayle Manchin and other leaders toured our school to experience Montessori firsthand. Since then, Head of School Dana Gilliland and Board Vice President JoEllen Zacks have actively participated in ongoing discussions designed to create a state-wide movement for transforming West Virginia Schools.  The MMS Glass Classroom campaign is a concurrent effort to demonstrate the role Montessori can play in elevating education to this state-wide group and the community at large.




Recent media coverage:

West Virginia Public Broadcasting: Can the Structure of Public Education Be Changed?

By Clark Davis, August 11, 204
Mapping a new vision for education in West Virginia.

Mapping a new vision for education in West Virginia.

Members of the state’s education community met Monday at Marshall University to discuss how to take the next step in public education in the state.

Can West Virginia’s public education system be fixed? That was the question that was asked Monday on Marshall’s campus. Charleston attorney Charles McElwee called together administrators and policy makers to discuss how change can be made in the public education realm. McElwee said the current system which follows old outdated standard  isn’t working.

“The goal is to try to mobilize citizen support and getting an ever widening number of citizens involved, because if we don’t get citizen support, I think our efforts will be for not,” McElwee said.

The meeting yesterday was the second organized by McElwee, the first was held in Morgantown. McElwee said he hopes that by hosting the forums around the state that more people will get involved and take a closer look at the current K-12 system.

Marshall University President Dr.Stephen Kopp told the group of 30 gathered for the forum that a new action plan needs to be developed to take into account how today’s public school student learns.

“Much of what needs to take place is aligning the scientific foundations and examining the practices that are being followed and ask the question are there other practices that have yet to be fully developed that would have not only a greater impact in terms of the outcomes we’re trying to achieve with the student, but would actually foster deeper learning for our students,” Kopp said.

Kopp went on to say that under the old model a professor in the case of Marshall or a teacher in the case of K-12 was there to profess knowledge on a subject, but in today’s world knowledge can be obtained anywhere, so a professor or teacher needs to do more.

“In this day and age, if professing knowledge is all we’re doing, that learning process can happen just about anywhere,” Kopp said. “The critical question in my opinion is how do we make the transition from being professors to being designers and architects of powerful learning experiences for our students.”

Cabell County Superintendent William Smith realizes changes are the key to improving, but they aren’t always easy.

“Education is very very tough to change, because everyone has done it and they all know what it’s supposed to look like,” Smith said. “When you start talking about change, your biggest opponents is usually your total community because school is the way it was when I was going there in the 50’s, why does it need to be changing now. We need to look at what assessments need to be put in place to determine achievement.”

Smith noted that Cabell County Schools is embracing the idea of a different learning environment. An older middle school is being remodeled into a consolidated elementary school. There, an incubator school will be formed  – one of just a few schools in the country to take part in expeditionary learning, where kids become much more involved in their day-to-day instruction. Marshall University’s June Harless Center will help train teachers in the new learning techniques.

“I think student engagement is a major issue for schools, we need to think about how we engage our students and how do we measure that, that tells me whether a school is going to be successful or not,” Smith said. “But when you’re talking about student engagement, it’s not just what they know, but what they can do, so assessment is going to have to be more I guess in terms of what a student can do.”

McElwee hopes the ideas from the meeting lead to change in the state’s education system.



Herald-Dispatch: New Approaches for Education Explored, August 12, 2014

New approaches for education explored

Aug. 12, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

About 30 people attended the session titled “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in West Virginia,” taking on topics including college preparedness and even changing the traditional teaching model that has dominated in the United States since the 1800s.


MMS Head of School Dana Gilliland, Charlie McElwee and education leaders share ideas for advancing education with WVU President E. Gordon Gee.

The forum was the second of its kind to be hosted by Charles R. McElwee, an attorney from Charleston who has researched and written about the public school system for many years.

McElwee hosted a similar forum at the home of West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee in Morgantown in June.

The goal of the forums has been to help mobilize citizen support for an improved public education system in West Virginia, McElwee said.

McElwee believes the state should focus on how students best learn and what it is they should learn.


WV Board of Education President Gayle Manchin and Nelle Chilton

“We need to determine that,” he said. “We also need to determine whether our age-old learning model, which is derived from Prussia in the early 1800s, should continue.”

That model, he said involves breaking up the school day by subject, teaching all students at the same pace and advancing students through the educational system by age.

McElwee questioned if that learning model has kept up with societal advances.

“Does it make any sense to teach all kids at the same pace?” he asked. “Should we have student-centered learning and let kids advance at their own pace? Those are some of the things we need to examine in the traditional learning model.”


Becky Ceperley, president, Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, from left, JoEllen Zacks, MMS Board of Directors, Gayle Manchin, Charlie McElwee, and Ryan White, Kanawha County School Board.

Cabell County Schools Superintendent Bill Smith was one of the contributors to the forum.

He pointed out the school district’s foray into the Expeditionary Learning model that is being used in two of the district’s schools. Those schools, Geneva Kent and Peyton elementary schools, will be consolidated at the end of the school year to create the first Expeditionary Learning school in West Virginia.

In Expeditionary Learning, students learn by conducting learning expeditions rather than by sitting in a classroom being taught one subject at a time. The school district has partnered with Marshall University’s June Harless Center to offer teachers in Cabell County and throughout the state training on that type of learning approach.

Smith said the model will play more into focusing on what students can do as opposed to what they know.

“I think student engagement is a a major issue for schools,” Smith said. “We need to think about how we engage our students and measure that. … When you talk about student engagement, it’s not about what they know, it’s what they can do. Assessment in the future is going to be more about what they can do.”

Marshall University President Stephen Kopp echoed that sentiment of student ability when he noted recent statistics from the National College Board that indicated only 26 percent of high school graduates entering college were prepared for college-level math and English courses.

“I think when you look nationally at the preparedness of high school seniors to go into college and do college-level work, we’ve seen an erosion of preparedness,” Kopp said. “It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause, but I think what we’re going to accomplish today is to start asking very important questions and explore potential solutions.”

Kopp also said a university’s role is just as important in K-12 public education because universities educate the teachers who will be tasked with helping students meet educational standards.

In his opening remarks for the forum, Kopp pointed out the importance of looking for solutions and not looking for someone or something to blame.

West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin supported Kopp’s philosophy and stated it is one that needs to be used broadly in the educational system today.

“I think in the past it’s been easy for people in the community to say it’s the teachers’ fault because they don’t teach kids today the way they used to,” Manchin said. “Teachers say it’s the parents fault because students don’t come to school with basic instruction, and the business leaders say it’s everyone’s fault because they don’t have enough qualified people to hire and do the jobs they need done.

“It truly is about coming together today independently, each and every one of us has a responsibility to the education of the children of West Virginia and across this country.”

Follow Reporter Lacie Pierson on Twitter @LaciePiersonHD.

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