Brocha Baum-Margolese, 35, is the founder of Darchei Noam Montessori, Baltimore’s only Jewish Montessori school.
Baum-Margolese, a married mother of six, grew up in Detroit. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska and is working on her Ph.D. online when she is not occupied with running her school, which is located on Warren Road in Pikesville.
Before moving to the Upper Park Heights area, Baum-Margolese trained at the Option Institute at the Autism Treatment Center of America and was working with autistic and developmentally challenged children one-on-one. She was first introduced to Montessori schools after being asked to shadow an autistic girl at a Montessori enrichment program in Detroit. The teacher leading the Detroit program registered Baum-Margolese to earn her own Montessori certification.
How does a Montessori school differ from other schools?
Maria Montessori started the school in Italy. She was an anthropologist, philosopher and the first female doctor of her time, but she moved into education through science, specifically studying the brain and child development. What she designed was based on her studies about how a child’s mind works. She pulled together what we now call Montessori, breaking things down by developmental stages rather than age group.
Montessori material and methodology bring to life the philosophy of educating each child according to their needs. You might walk into a classroom and see a very young 3-year-old and a child who is 6 both learning in the same classroom. Our curriculums go in three-year increments. We also are very different from traditional schools in that we view the whole child. The teacher actually charts and has lessons for emotional, social and academic development, and we believe strongly that those all interrelate. We are always taking the next step, even if they are tiny baby steps. As long as there is continued development, we keep moving with it at the child’s own pace. It is so in line with Jewish education and with what we know Jewish education should and could be. It is a completely different approach.
How has your school grown?
Before, I was just running a licensed daycare in my basement, and each year (this is our eighth year), there was a big push from the parents to keep going with elementary school. I liked what I did. It was really nice to be in the classroom, I was the full-time teacher. Some years I had an assistant, some years I just kept the number under 10 kids. It was this nice, intimate group, and I got to teach my own biological children. It was just nice and cozy and that has been our cornerstone for building outward — we are really trying to keep that family feel, even as we grow into much larger numbers. Last year, we had 16 students, this year we have 38, and next year, it looks like we are going to cap at 90.
This year, we moved into a larger space just for one year because we knew we would outgrow it. It is still ages 3 to 6, but now we have two classrooms, and I am doing more management, I am not teaching full-time anymore.
What are your goals?
Our next step is that in the fall, we will be opening separate girls and boys divisions for elementary students in first, second and third grades. We also have a bigger picture. We opened this nonprofit called the Center for Innovative Jewish Learning. Our goal is to really teach the best practices in Jewish education, including educating other teachers and sharing ideas.
The other component is the business aspect. We have created a model where we have a lower tuition price than most of the local Jewish day schools, but we know that our tuition can absolutely cover our operational cost.
In that model, we have a commitment to transparency. All of our staff is aware of salaries, which run on a scale based on your experience and education. We are also running a scholarship fund so we know that every child coming in is technically paying full tuition, whether it comes from parents’ pockets or the scholarship fund. We are not going to have a capital fund and be making last-minute pleas to be able to pay our staff. We know that we are financially stable, and that is a business plan that we really want to share.