Hillside Montessori breaks ground on new school site

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2023

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Hillside Montessori held a groundbreaking ceremony for the school’s new location off of Hills & Dales Farm Road on Monday evening. The project is several years in the making but the school is expected to be completed by late 2024.

Standing in the open field that will soon be the home of the new school, current and former students faculty, parents, trustees, community leaders, donors and others involved in the four-year process to bring the new school to fruition joined in the groundbreaking.

“This is truly a day of celebration, and it brings me so much joy to see so many of you,” said Head of School Bethany Headrick.

Headrick gave a brief history of the school that has grown from a handful of students to over 100.

In 2010, Headrick sent an email to the parents of children attending First Presbyterian Montessori with the idea of starting a school using the Montessori method that goes beyond kindergarten.

“Our kids love it here. They’re thriving. Who wants to get together and try to start a school so that way they can be in Montessori beyond kindergarten?” she asked at the time.

Everyone was on board at first and they began brainstorming the new school. From that original group, seven stuck around and formed the steering committee that founded Hillside Montessori. 

“We had no idea what we were doing, but we were determined to offer more options for education in our community. We asked questions and wrote letters and talked a lot to anyone who would listen. We did research and ran into dead ends and we were met with both discouragement and support. Most of all, though, we persevered and we believed,” Hendrick said. 

In 2012, the school opened its doors to its first class of students.  

“Some of those students from that initial class are here today. The oldest are juniors in college and the youngest are in their senior year of high school,” Headrick said. “Eleven years seems in many ways, like a short period of time, but in that span of just over a decade, Hillside Montessori has grown from 12 students and one staff member in a one-room schoolhouse to over 100 students.”

“In 2018, when we announced our plans to build a new school, we had no idea what challenges lay ahead. The pandemic shifted our focus to simply finding ways to keep children learning safely. And in the aftermath, construction prices more than doubled the cost of the building. At times this project seemed like it would never come to fruition, but we kept returning our attention to the children,” Headrick said.

“They’re resilient in the face of challenges. They’re persistent, and their desire to keep learning inspired our team to follow the child and to follow our dreams. Here we are on this land. We will plant our roots in solid ground and focus on honoring our mission nurturing our students and reaching our full potential as a school community,” she said.

The new school is being built by Principal Construction and designed by architect Smith Design Group. Both were on hand for the groundbreaking.

Architect Skip Smith said they are hoping to have the new building done in a little over a year.

 In line with the Montessori Method, students had a big part in the ceremony, sharing their thoughts on the new school and even helping introduce the speakers. Award-winning orator and Hillside Montessori student Katt Martin helped emcee the event. 

The official groundbreaking was no different. When it came time to put shovel to dirt, rather than the board or donors, it was the students who had the opportunity to first break ground on the project. 

“Student-centered, hands-on learning experiences are part of the hallmarks of the Montessori experience. Through real-world engagement and relevant learning connections, future students can evolve into their best selves right here, as the staff and teachers work to develop thoughtful conscientious leaders,” said Callaway Foundation President Tripp Penn.

“Community education and child development are core to the Callaway Foundation’s priorities. Our vision for the foundation is that everybody in Troup County has a quality education, a good job, safe and affordable housing, engagement with the community and what they need to flourish,” Penn said. “It starts with quality education.”