Houston’s Newest Montessori High School Prepares to Expand
On a recent Friday morning at Post Oak High School in Montrose, a group of teenagers were perched on stools around a black rectangular work table, pursuing various projects. In the center of the table sat a tiny, pancake-size drone that a few of the students were learning how to fly. Two other students played chess on an iPad; others typed away at their laptop computers. In the corner, a pair of boys were tinkering with the school’s new 3D printer and scanner, while a few feet away two girls sat in front of a silver iMac, editing video footage taken during the previous week’s school trip to Mississippi.
This isn’t a typical high school class. But then again, Post Oak isn’t a typical high school. Founded in 2012, it’s only the second high school in Houston based on the principles of renowned Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870–1952), who developed a curriculum emphasizing independent, hands-on learning. For children in Montessori preschools, this might mean learning basic arithmetic by playing with blocks; for high school students, it means conducting scientific field research, or taking painting classes at the Glassell School of Art.
Although the high school is new, the Post Oak School isn’t—founded in 1963 and now located on a four-acre campus in Bellaire, it quickly grew into one of Houston’s most prestigious private schools, enrolling students from pre-K through 8th grade. About seven years ago, Post Oak’s administrators began considering adding a high school. “A number of parents were saying, ‘We really like the school, our kids are thriving here, why doesn’t Post Oak do a high school?’” remembered Head of School John Long. “And we’d been hearing that for a long time.”
Although there are around 5,000 Montessori schools across the country, only a few dozen of them are high schools. One of the most celebrated is the Montessori High School at University Circle, located in Cleveland, Ohio’s bustling cultural district. That’s where Post Oak found James Moudry, a veteran educator they hired to set up the new high school. One of the major first decisions was to build the new school in the Museum District, within walking distance of dozens of cultural institutions.
As with all Montessori schools, a great deal of thought went into Post Oak’s look and feel. The main building, on Autrey Street between Montrose and Yoakum, feels less like a traditional high school than the office of a Silicon Valley start-up, with an open-plan layout, modular classroom space, and conference tables instead of individual desks. There are no bells marking the change of classes, and students have flexible schedules that allow them to perform internships at places like the Houston Museum of Natural Science or the Jung Center.
This year’s group of 13 seniors will be the first to graduate from Post Oak, and word of the school’s success has spread rapidly. To accommodate a growing enrollment, Post Oak broke ground in August on a new 8,200-square-foot building—designed by noted architectural firm Gensler—that will feature floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Montrose Boulevard. It’s scheduled to be finished in time to begin the 2016-17 school year.
“One of the really great things the new building will give us is visibility,” said Moudry, the high school director. “When I tell people we’re located in Montrose, a lot of them go, ‘Oh, when do you open?’ Well, we’ve been open for four years. But now we’ll be right on Montrose Boulevard—and that makes a statement.”