Dallas ISD’s E.D. Walker Elementary underwent construction in 2019 to renovate the school and to add space for more students. Photo by Jessica Turner.

CLAUDIA MARQUEZ dedicates much of her weekday time toward her role as a teacher at Jimmie Tyler Brashear Elementary School. But on weekends, that role is reversed. She becomes a student and devotes Saturday afternoons and Sundays to studying. 

Marquez, who’s been working for Dallas ISD for the past four years, is one of about 16 educators participating in a Montessori training program paid for by the school district. Marquez says the course load and time commitment of the training is similar to that of a master’s program.

“For me, it’s so worth it that I’m on board with all of this. I know it’s going to be a transition, but it’s going to pay off,” she says. 

DISD needs more instructors to staff the new in-demand Montessori schools, such as the one at E.D. Walker Elementary, where Marquez will be working next year. 

When it opens, the Prestonwood Montessori at at E.D. Walker will help satisfy the need for more programs of its kind in the district, and especially in North Dallas. Walker alone will be able to take 240 students in preschool through second grade in the academy, and that number will grow each year up to 440 as third, fourth and fifth grades are added.

Brian Lusk, the chief of strategic initiatives for DISD, says the proven success of other Montessori schools in the district helps fuel demand for the programs. 

George B. Dealey, which opened in 1993 as one of the district’s original Montessori schools, is right down the road from Walker. Last year, it received more than 200 applications for only 66 seats. 

“The instructional approach is different and unique in the Montessori model,” Lusk says. “It’s a child-centered approach where students have choice and voice.” 

Walker is nestled in an area where many families send children to private schools, and the district believes they may be attracted to the Montessori program. 

“There’s also a market share that we definitely could tap into for families who would be interested in this type of model,” Lusk says. 

With Prestonwood, DISD will have six Montessori schools, five of them located north of I-30. The district has plans for a seventh school in Pleasant Grove. 

To house more students, Walker began construction of a new addition in 2019, in addition to renovating the existing middle school. While a library, gym, state-of-the-art STEM labs, and visual and performing arts rooms were built, teachers were using portable buildings and moving around as different classrooms needed improvements.

Ashley Toole, who is finishing up a whirlwind first year as Walker’s principal, has been leading the school, virtually meeting a new staff and overseeing a campus throughout a thorough renovation project.

“I just think it’s so amazing that Dallas invested in this school the way that they did,” Toole says.

Students will be admitted to Prestonwood, classified as a transformation school, on a lottery system. There isn’t any entrance criteria, but students still must apply. Ultimately, the district wants to maintain some diversity and equity by having a student population of which 50% have a lower socioeconomic status and 50% do not. 

Within the lottery, certain groups will receive priority. First priority goes to families from nearby Anne Frank Elementary, which is over capacity. Then, students in the Hillcrest, Thomas Jefferson, W.T. White, Conrad or North Dallas feeder patterns will be considered. Next, any families throughout the district are included, followed by students outside DISD. 

“I’m just looking forward to working with a great team of motivated people, and hopefully the community catching on and enrolling their kids,” Marquez says. “Because I really do firmly believe that this is a great methodology for them to share with their children.”

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