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The nation’s first public Montessori high school

Clark has been nationally recognized for academic excellence. Inspired  by Dr. Maria Montessori's experience with adolescents (as detailed in her book, From Childhood to Adulthood), Clark leads students in developing their intellectual skill while learning to be full contributors to society. The triangle of Montessori education — students, teachers and parents — at Clark works to form a strong community of adults and teenagers who respect each other. 

Our school is best known for its field studies and intersessions, learning through community service, emphasis on thematic work, seminars and relationship building. One avenue for this work is through our Music and Visual Arts Departments.  


Cincinnati was one of the first cities to benefit from the ‘Montessori-in-America’ movement .

Founder of Montessori in America
Nancy Rambusch studied the Montessori method in London in the 1950’s then began the American Montessori Society (AMS) in 1960.  She was the driving force behind the AMS teacher-training program at Xavier University in the seventies.  Her actions began what would quickly become a popular education movement in the United States.

Montessori Elementary Schools 
Around the time that Rambusch helped to found Xavier’s Montessori program, Cincinnati Public Schools established a magnet school program as part of the settlement of a desegregation lawsuit. One of the first magnet offerings was Montessori for grades K-6, partly because Cincinnati was home to two of the oldest private Montessori elementary schools in the country--The New School and Mercy Montessori. These schools planted the seeds of public awareness in Cincinnati regarding the value of a Montessori education.  Over the next 15 years, the elementary Montessori program grew from one school to three; there are now five public elementary Montessori schools and two public secondary schools.

Montessori Secondary Program
In the early 1980s, parents began talking about a secondary program where students could continue their Montessori experience into junior high and high school.  In 1992, the Board of Education gave the nod to begin the process of developing a Montessori secondary program based on the success of the preschool and elementary programs in the city.  Bob Townsend, the head of Magnet schools at the time, gathered parents, teachers, and administrators from each of the three elementary schools to begin the work.  After a year of wrangling with ideas, small group meetings, large group meetings, and reading assignments, the co-founders created a philosophy statement.The next step was to create a program proposal.  Research and consultations consumed the time of the committee.  They began formulating ideas for creating a vision for the school, considering foreign language (Latin vs. Spanish), an inner city farm model vs. something else that might fulfill Montessori’s vision, and how to create a enduring sense of stewardship among our students. The program proposal was finalized and presented to the Board of Education, and by January 1994, the planning team was given the OK to start the Montessori program the following school year.  The new Montessori middle school would be located at Jacobs Center in Winton Place with two other magnet programs. (Ironically, the same building that would become the Clark temporary location 15 years later.)

The proposal turned out to be quite different, as most proposals are, from what the program became. The new Montessori middle school teachers, with Marta Donahoe as program coordinator, continually referred to the proposal and learned from their experiences each day, keeping in mind the importance of Montessori’s original vision for the adolescent. The original proposal prompted investigation, observations, interviews, readings of Montessori and the Carnegie report on Middle School Education which was released in 1989, and ultimately made the Montessori Middle School team think very deeply about the integrity of their work, the fullness of their responsibility to the Montessori community and the adolescents they would serve.

Teachers and support staff were hired and trained in a 520-hour training program with Houston Montessori Center in which all teachers received a Montessori 12-15 credential from the American Montessori Society (AMS).  Teachers now earn their Secondary I-II credential from the Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teacher Education Program (CMStep).  

Location of the Building Sites and Organization of Students
The Montessori secondary program began as a school-within-a-school at Jacobs Center on Winton Ridge Lane with about sixty 7th graders. For the first two years the teachers tried out new things day-by-day, week-by-week. They met daily and on weekends.  If the methods worked, and were true to the philosophy and methodology of Montessori, they kept it. If it did not work, they went back to the planning stage and tried again. By the fourth year, the program had grown.  It relocated in small school building of its own: the old Highland Elementary on the Ohio River and added its own principal, Tom Rothwell and 9th grade team as the high school was born. By the end of the fifth year, the Montessori program, now called Clark Montessori after Peter H. Clark, the pioneering African-American educator, had outgrown their first building and moved to the old Peoples Middle School in Hyde Park, which is our permanent home today.

In the Hyde Park building, the junior high was located in one of two wings of the building.  The junior high grew to five communities, each having between 50 and 55 students with two teachers and a teaching assistant.  High school students were housed in the other wing.  They are grouped by grade for core academic subjects and like the junior high students, stay with the same team of teachers for two years (grades 9-10 and 11-12.)  Intersessions in the spring are multi-aged, with students selecting the unique experience depending on their interests. From 2007-2012, Clark Montessori moved to a temporary location – back to the Jacobs Center building. Rupa Townsend was the principal during this time when a dedicated design team met to plan the new building’s design. The beautiful new building construction was completed ready to move into in the 2012-2013 school year. In 2013 John Spieser was named principal and served for two years. One of Clark's former 11-12 English teachers, Dean Blase, returned to Clark in 2015 to serve as it's fourth principal.

Student Population
Students primarily come to Clark from the five Cincinnati Montessori public elementary schools or from the city’s private Montessori schools and other public schools.  There are no academic requirements for a student to enter our program, although students and their families are interviewed and then sign an agreement as part of their acceptance to come to the school; 95% of Clark students have previous Montessori education. This means that Clark has a very diverse student population. Folks at Clark are proud of the fact that there is diversity in race, in gender, in the represented neighborhoods, in socio-economic background, and in the academic and personal qualities of the school’s student body.

The teachers in the five middle school communities plan the curriculum together so that all communities are working on the same content at the same time. Montessori identified needs and characteristics of the adolescent, and her writing heavily influences the curriculum design and delivery. 

The Common Core Standards are used to design learning activities.  The curriculum is arranged around a theme for a quarter in junior high and for the year in high school.  The themes allow for interdisciplinary planning and allow students to probe the material as deeply as they can.  Students take part in many extended out-of-class learning experiences (like camping and marine biology) designed to extend the academic challenge of the classroom and to build community.

All high school students are expected to manage honors level coursework, and there is a strong infrastructure of support for students to do their best work, including an advisor and advisory period.  Two times a year, the regular coursework shuts down to allow for two-week immersion courses to take place. These field study courses range in price from $50.00 to $1,500.00. A parent group sponsors a variety of fundraisers throughout the year to help students earn money for these specialty courses.

This We Believe
Clark Montessori teachers are the co-creators of a world that will become more compassionate and that will hold a greater likelihood of sustaining itself if they adhere to the basic belief that “Everybody does better when everybody does better.” They make every attempt to pass this idea to parents and students. It is much to hold, and it depends first and foremost on the integrity of the adults in the school to model the same actions expected of the students and parents. 

Ultimately, as a community of learners, Clark Montessori is a place in which all members feel safe and valued, and through challenging, fun, exciting opportunities, can develop the skills so that every adolescent will find his or her place in society. Clark Montessori is a beacon for students, guiding them through this work in the passage to adulthood, as it shines a light on the dignity of every person, the progression of the human spirit, and on this world as a place of rising hope.