Sussex Montessori announces Lisa Coldiron as head of school

Lisa Coldiron of Bethany Beach is serving as the inaugural Head of School for the new Sussex Montessori School, starting Aug. 1.

Represtatives of the school said Coldiron has deep community ties to western Sussex County through her work as the Sussex County director of the Read Aloud Delaware program, and most recently as the Sussex County Health Coalition grant manager. In these roles, Coldiron served Sussex County families in partnership with the Seaford School District, the Boys & Girls Club, Parents as Teachers, the Parent Information Center and the Family Support & Healthcare Alliance Delaware, including families with limited English proficiency, as well as those who were food-insecure, or clothing-insecure, or homeless.

Coldiron received her degree in early childhood education, with a minor in music, from Elizabethtown College in 1981 and later took advanced coursework at the University of Delaware. She taught music for 18 years at the Tatnall School, where she became department head, as well as at the Montessori Learning Center in Wilmington and CACC Montessori in Hockessin, where, Coldiron said, she “came to appreciate the child-centered, teacher-guided environment where the development of the whole child is paramount” that characterizes the Montessori philosophy. All three of Coldiron’s children attended Montessori schools.

At Sussex Montessori, Coldiron will take the reins of a new public charter elementary school for grades K-6, scheduled to open in the fall of 2020.

Her responsibilities will include hiring and managing the training of 12 classroom teachers for the first school year (for grades K-3), developing administrative policies and procedures, and working with the SMS outreach specialist, Kaneisha Trott, to ensure that the first-year student demographics of the school represent the cultural and economic diversity of western Sussex County.

The SMS Board of Directors acquired the former Wheaton Farm property in early 2019 and has since been planning and securing approvals for improvements at the 8.5-acre location. Renovation and construction will begin later this summer.

The school was launched through a challenge grant from the Longwood Foundation, whose trustees sought to create a charter elementary school to serve lower-income rural children in western Sussex County.

Although operational funding for SMS will be provided by the State of Delaware, the school must generate all of its dollars for capital needs through private donations.

The SMS Board of Directors has therefore launched a campaign to generate $5.9 million of the estimated $10 million that will be required, with the balance to be borrowed by the school itself.

When the school reaches full capacity, anticipated in 2023, it will serve 455 students in grades K-6 and employ 48 teaching professionals and staff, said Linda Zankowsky, chair of the SMS Board. Since SMS is a public charter school, it is tuition-free.

“We look forward to sharing the challenge of serving a growing student population with other public schools in western Sussex,” said Zankowsky. “When SMS students graduate from sixth grade, they will bring their skills and love of learning to regional middle schools, creating a new generation of learners and leaders for this region,” she said.

Families will be able to apply for admission for grades K-3 to Sussex Montessori during the enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 4, 2019, to Jan. 8, 2020. While any child from Delaware can enroll, Zankowsky said she anticipates the majority of students will reside in western Sussex County.