RED WING -- Parents and teachers of the Red Cottage Montessori school believe two things: Montessori education is great for children and every parent should be able to send their child to a Montessori school if they so choose. For both of these reasons, the Red Cottage community is working to become a charter school.

Kai Rodger is the head of Red Cottage. She founded the school 10 years ago after falling in love with the Montessori method She previously was a public school elementary teacher and left to raise her young children. Rodgers recalled that after being home for a few years “principals in the area and people that I would know would call every year to say, ‘Is this the year you’re coming back?’ And every year I would drag my feet and I didn’t know why.”

During this period, Rodgers observed a Montessori classroom for about an hour and a half in River Falls. She explained, “I think in the first five minutes I realized that this was how children were meant to learn and how teachers were meant to teach. And so, I couldn’t sleep for nights after that because it was so different compared to traditional school, but it really followed all of the philosophies that I had learned in my teacher training education.”

Kai Coyle, who founded Red Cottage Montessori and works as the lead children’s house guide, watches and talks to the kids as they come in from some time outdoors. RiverTown Multimedia/file photo
Kai Coyle, who founded Red Cottage Montessori and works as the lead children’s house guide, watches and talks to the kids as they come in from some time outdoors. RiverTown Multimedia/file photo

Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, developed the educational method a century ago. Each "house" has children of varying ages and education is based on child-led activities referred to as “work.” The children's house, for example, includes ages 3 to kindergarten. Association Montessori International, the founder believed that children learn better when they’re choosing what to learn. Guides and leads empower children, who long to learn, to set the pace.

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When Red Cottage was founded it had seven preschool students. Now, there are more than 60 students ranging from toddlers to fourth-graders.

Perry Sekus is a founding board member of the school. He said, “We were talking about, we’ve done this for 10 years, what’s the next step to continue to grow this school? And the logical answer became: Make it a free public school by making it a charter school.”

Rodgers explained that the board thought about working to become a charter school in the past, but it never seemed to be the right time. “It’s a really large undertaking and all of the stars have to align to make it work. And this year, all the stars aligned."

Charter school timeline

  • About a year ago the board began talking about becoming a charter school.

  • Once the Red Cottage community agreed to pursue becoming a charter school the board found an authorizer to work with them.

  • The spring of 2020 was dedicated to learning about charter schools and what is needed to set up a school in order to be better equipped to write the application.

  • In July, Red Cottage submitted a 290-page application to a charter school authorizer.

  • The application was accepted in November.

  • Currently, the charter school authorizer is writing an affidavit to the Minnesota Department of Education about Red Cottage.

  • Currently, the Red Cottage board is working on items such as governance, marketing strategies and new bylaws.

  • Currently, the organization is looking for a new building to accommodate a growing student body.

  • Next month, a board for the charter school will be seated.

  • The school is expected to open in the summer of 2022 serving students from 18 months to sixth grade.

While working to create a charter school, Red Cottage has begun marketing the new school. Rogers stated, “There’s been a lot of public interest, we just can’t assume that that’s going to translate to children actually in our school.”

Everyone in the Red Cottage community is excited about becoming a charter school, Rodgers said.

“Everybody’s onboard. The parent body at this school knows the risks of us going to a charter model because if we have more children apply than we have spaces for, we have to go to a lottery system and there’s no guarantees that anybody’s children get to continue their Montessori education from prior. But everybody’s OK with that because they believe that Montessori really should be for all.”