Great River School began in April, 2002, when a representative from the Center for School Change of the Humphrey Institute, at the University of Minnesota, approached leaders in our local Montessori community and challenged them to submit a proposal for a public charter Montessori high school.  The proposal was ultimately awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Start-Up Grant in June, 2002 along with five other schools.

During the summer of 2002, a start-up Board of Directors was formed. Larry Schaefer was named project director and Ben Moudry, project manager.  In July, the school was named Great River School after a Montessori story, The Story of the Great River,  and in the fall, Hamline University agreed to be the school’s sponsor.  It was and exciting moment when the State of Minnesota approved its application for Charter School Status in the fall of 2002.

The year 2003 was absorbed in training as faculty attended training in Montessori education and in various programs to become state-licensed teachers.  Project staff also worked at planning the school, writing curriculum, and producing the recruitment and enrollment literature. In November 2003, Great River School made its public debut at J.J. Hill Montessori School.   Throughout the next year, faculty from Great River School held public meetings many more times in anticipation of opening the doors in the fall of 2004.

The first year school year, 2004-2005, Great River School opened with  86 7th through 10th graders.  Despite a few ups and downs that go with any new venture, Great River’s first year was phenomenal for students, teachers and families.  After an 18 day Odyssey, the Junior High program came together with amazing smoothness; the Senior High community began to be formed with care and attention to academic exploration and student focus.  Although the year was rocky on the financial front, the board of directors, parents/guardians and faculty worked together to ensure the continuation of the school.

The second year, 2005-2006, was a smoother start for the 156 students and teachers.  Lessons learned during the first year were put to the test as the school grew in numbers and experience.  During the year, the Board of Directors took strict control of the finances and approved a recommendation that the Senior High School adopt an International Baccalaureate curriculum, a 3-year process from adoption to implementation.   The class of 2007 was the first graduating class, but the class of 2009 was the first class to graduate with an option to sit for International Baccalaureate exams; the class of 2010 was the first to have candidates to earn the full IB Diploma.  Two students were successful.

2006-2007 and 2007-2008 were great years of growth and stability.  New teachers joined the faculty; more students helped make the student body expand, and grants helped make specific programming happen.  In the fall of 2007, several grants helped develop more focus areas for the school.  A Comprehensive Arts Planning Grant from the Perpich Center funded the development of a five year arts plan with the first year of the plan beginning in September, 2008.  A grant from the Lemelson-MIT Foundation and support from Thomas McNerney and Associates, LKPB  Engineers, Incorporated and Minnetronix helped develop engineering focused programs in the senior high Idea Lab such as InvenTeams and First Robotics.

In 2008, the school settled into more routines of academics, enrollment and governance. In 2008-2009, Great River School began to offer the International Baccalaureate Program to all 11th and 12th graders.  While not all students will pursue a diploma, all students will participate in core IB courses.  A new director hired in 2009 began a new phase of organization as all elements of the school began to settle into more routines and and a clear direction.

In Fall 2012, GRS expanded its program to offer an elementary Montessori program for students in grades 1 to 6.  Two classrooms opened with 56 students – one Lower Elementary (grades 1-3) and one Upper Elementary (grades 4-6). In the fall of 2013, we will add two more elementary classrooms for a total of 120 elementary students at Great River School. It is exciting to see our program grow in depth and breadth.

During the summer of 2012, all secondary teachers participated in a unique Montessori Orientation for Adolescent Teachers. While we anticipate growth and challenges in the ensuing years, we look forward to stability and richer development of our school in the future without growing too much in size.

Great River is enrolling students for the 1st through 12th grades. Come join us as we continue making history.

Great River Facts

We are:

  • a public charter Montessori serving 420 students from first grade to 12th grade
  • a non-profit organization
  • located at 1326 Energy Park Drive in Saint Paul, Minnesota
  • authorized by Novation Education Options (NEO)
  • supported financially by the State of Minnesota

Our Leaders are:

  • Christina Beck, Head of School
  • Ben Moudry, Montessori Director
  • a core faculty of highly credentialed and skilled educators
  • faculty who have attended Montessori Training at either the Primary or Elementary level
  • faculty who have attended the Adolescent Orientation offered by NAMTA
  • high school faculty members with International Baccalaureate training****

Dr. Lawrence Schaefer, Founder

PhD Fordham University
Montessori Trained

As our first Head of School, Larry brought over three decades of Montessori experience with him. Larry holds a Doctorate in European and American history from Fordham University and a diploma in Montessori Elementary education from Bergamo, Italy. In 1976, Larry founded Lake Country School and was co-principal and teacher there for twenty years, Larry lectures nationally and internationally on Montessori elementary and adolescent education.
Together with his wife Pat, Larry founded the Lake Country Institute. Inspired by the work of the late Dr. Maria Montessori, Lake Country Institute’s mission is to encourage creativity in educational practice and promote understanding of education based on human development.

** The Primary and Elementary training is a year long, rigorous training in the Montessori educational philosophy and practice.

*** The NAMTA (North American Montessori Teachers Association) Adolescent Orientation is a six week, rigorous summer course that orients people to the Montessori philosophy with regard to adolescents.

**** International Baccalaureate training is a workshop that spans several days to provide in-depth training in designing the IB curriculum, supporting student learning, thinking, and growth, and guiding consistent, accurate assessment in the IB program. All IB teachers have attended IB training in their disciplines.