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Hoke, Betsy Ellen

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

 

Betsy Hoke

(1950 - )

The daughter of an Air Force family, Betsy spent part of her childhood in Europe.  She graduated from DePaw University in Indiana and did her student-teaching with seniors, realizing then she wanted to be with younger children who loved to learn.

Betsy's mother had founded the first pre-school on the Air Force base in Europe, and she'd heard about the Montessori training available in London, England.

Betsy pursued a degree from Montessori Training Institute (AMI) in London in 1973 and furthered her training at Montessori Education Center of the Rockies (AMS) in Boulder in 1985.  Her first teaching job was in Colorado Springs in 1973 where she met her husband, Roy.

She was to become synonymous with Montessori education in the Evergreen area over a period of three decades with a reputation that lingered far beyond.

Upon moving to Evergreen in 1980, she was hired to be a part-time administrator and a part-time teacher at the Montessori Children's House, founded in 1977 by Kathy Andrews and located on the campus of Church of the Transfiguration. In 1980 it had 50 students.

In 1983, the Andrews family moved on, and Betsy bought the business.  Two years later when the church pursued desires to turn the campus into a conference center, the school lost its lease.

At the urging of mothers who believed in the Montessori approach and wanted to see it continue, in 1985 Betsy and Roy purchased a large home in an area called "Early Acres" in the Marshdale area and moved the school to that location, sharing the facilities as her private residence and using two classrooms for Kindergarten only.  Her daughter, Morgan, spent the first two and a half years there.

"Becky Shelby, John and Loie Evans, and the Howes helped the Andrews to get the first Montessori school going," Betsy recalled with a fondness for parents who always took such an interest in their kids' education and were known to help all along the way.

The property required going through the rezoning process – the first of five rezonings the school would need over the years.  The telephone operated on a party-line; they utilized "greywater" (household wastewater from laundry, dishwashing, and laundry recycled on the premises and approved for certain other non-potable uses); and parents delivering and picking up children traveled muddy, dirt roads.

Education for preschool and Kindergarten continued until 1987 when Betsy expanded to the first elementary grade – again with the urging of parents – and then expanded by one grade level each year to keep the same students enrolled.  "It was never my dream," Betsy points out.  "It was always at the urging of parents. Tandy Jones and Diane Robinson helped start the first grade and were instrumental in pushing [for more classes]."

Needing more classrooms to accommodate the growing population of students meant that the Hoke family needed to find another place to live.  After third grade, parents were needing to find other alternatives for schooling their children.  This was during a time prior to public school options being available for gifted students or alternative schools.

In 1992 Betsy bought the Treeview Montessori School, which had been started by Char Blendinger in 1987 at the corner of Troutdale Scenic Drive and Hwy. 74 in Evergreen.  It had been empty for a year.  By then she had two pre-school/Kindergarten programs going -- one at Marshdale and one at Troutdale, as well as a Lower Elementary program (first - third grades) at Marshdale.  She started the Upper Elementary program at Marshdale.

The expansion of classes continued with the construction of a two-story addition at the Marshdale school.  In 1996 she opened a Middle School, which taught students through the eighth grade, including her own two children.

"It was difficult having my own children in school while I was the principal, but I loved that they could attend the school and benefit from being with the terrific teachers," she admitted.

In 1998 she purchased land next to the Marshdale School and built a Middle School building with the help of her "dream team" of Don Grody, archtect, and Tom Sprung, contractor – both parents of children at the school.

At that time, the Middle School was up to 60 children, and the lower grades had about 100 students at each of the Marshdale and Troutdale schools.

Through a creative-financing plan, Betsy got the parents to pay tuition in advance – $1,000 to $5,000 each – for a payback over three years, getting a reduction in tuition in return.  The school was always renowned for parent involvement.

In 2005, Betsy converted the school from a for-profit entity to a nonprofit organization.  "I was worried about the economy," she said, "with $1.5 million in real estate debt zoned only for schools."  At a time when she was planning for retirement, she had 50 employees and 320 kids being educated annually.  She pulled together a highly skilled advisory board of professionals who identified her options, and a nonprofit was formed.  The new board contracted with Betsy to stay on as Head of School for the next several years.

"I'm passionate about Montessori and what it does for children," Betsy says of her 31-year history of schooling in Evergreen.  "It meets the needs of children through an individualized hands-on approach and strong academics.  It develops confident children with self-motivation and a love of learning and who can articulate what they need and follow their interests and passions."

Betsy was especially proud of the experiential, mentoring and business-entrepreneurship programs at the Middle School as well as the physical adventure program, all developed by Kristen Costello.

After retiring, she served for two and a half years as the Alumni Director, tracking down students who had attended the school and reconnecting them to one another through reunions.  Two of the students who had gone on to become teachers themselves returned to teach at one of the Montessori schools in Evergreen.  She learned that most of the students had pursued meaningful service-oriented positions giving back to society and were very successful in life.  She and her staff had stimulated a supportive community within a community comprised of parents who cared about children and were active volunteers.

Betsy retired as the Head of School in 2009 and began serving on the board of AfricAid, a charity that supports girls' education in Africa.  Although it had been her dream as a young adult to work in Europe, it took her 35 years to get off the North American continent.  In 2011 she traveled to Tanzania where she spent four days visiting schools before going on a safari.  Fueled by the fact that only five percent of Tanzanian girls get to go to secondary schools and finding pre-schoolers being taught the skill-drill-rote method, she expressed a desire to introduce Montessori methods in one of the the schools she visited.  The director of the Upendo School in Usa River, Tanzania, invited her to come.  After acquiring a huge inventory of books and other teaching and learning materials, Betsy returned in 2012 as part of her consulting business, "Mentoring by Montessoori and More."

She had the opportunity to see 36 children hold a book for the first time, viewing pictures and words together.  Along with other supplies, hand-made bookbags were donated to the school so that children could take home a book to be able to read to their parents and safely return the book to the school, exchanging it for another.  English, although required for admission to secondary schools, is not taught in public schools at the elementary level.

Betsy also works with the Gurian Institute, giving workshops on brain-based gender differences.

Source:  Interview with Betsy Hoke.