While the district celebrates the approval of its $143 million school budget and other proposals at the polls this week, supporters of the district’s Montessori center at George Washington Elementary are hoping changes in the program — and pink slips for some of the staff at the school — don’t point to a quick end for the relatively new program.

George Washington is in its second full year of operation as a Montessori school, as the program was phased in over three years. It opened with 3-to-5-year-olds in the “children’s house” in the 2008-09 school year, adding 6-to-9-year-olds the following year and completing its transformation in the 2010-11 school year with 10-to-12-year-olds.

The program first came under scrutiny when state standardized tests administered during the 2010-11 school year to students in ages that would put them in grades 3-5 in a standard curriculum saw the average score — 657.83 — of George Washington’s students come in lower than the average score across the rest of the district (672.33).

But supporters of the program, including school board President James Shaughnessy, have pointed out that the value of the Montessori program may not be truly clear until students who’ve gone through the program from a younger age are eligible for the state assessments. Donna Flayhan, a parent of a George Washington student, agreed.

Flayhan, a SUNY New Paltz professor, moved her family within the George Washington attendance zone fromWoodstockprimarily because of the Montessori program at the school. Flayhan’s youngest daughter, who turns 10 in August, is a current student at George Washington. Her eldest daughter is in the seventh grade at Miller Middle School, but she attended a private Montessori school in Maryland, where they lived before moving to Woodstock.

“My older daughter went to $14,000-a-year private Montessori schools inBaltimore, and this is the same curriculum,” Flayhan said. “These are the same materials.”

Flayhan said that she knew of other families who moved into the area because of the Montessori program at George Washington, partly because of the educational offerings, but also because of the diversity in the surrounding community.

“It’s really a great thing for the neighborhood and the school through the community it’s building,” Flayhan said. “It is really weaving a nice fabric into the neighborhood.”

Flayhan said that the standardized tests are making some critics of the Montessori program judge it based on criteria that isn’t a relevant measure of its success. Furthermore, she added, the standardized test scores will rise when kids who’ve been in Montessori from earlier in their education reach the third-grade level, which for some kids at George Washington will happen in the next couple of years.

Slideshow image: George Washington Elementary students pose for a photographer. (Photo by Dan Barton)