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August 23, 2014

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Not so neighborly: Group essentially says, ‘Schoolchildren: not in my backyard’

Image

Leila Navidi

Lori Bossy, the director of Montessori Visions Academy, reads to students Leila Armstrong, from left, 5, Matthew MacDougall, 6, and Posie Armstrong, 3, at the school in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 6, 2012.

Montessori Visions Academy

Lori Bossy, the director of Montessori Visions Academy, reads to students at the school in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Launch slideshow »
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Montessori Visions Academy

Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like we live in a ridiculous town.

In the latest example, Clark County has put the squeeze on a Montessori school — a Montessori school! — to appease unhappy neighbors, so the school has decided to pack up and leave.

Montessori Visions Academy, which has a location in unincorporated Clark County and another in Henderson, says the schools follow the Montessori teaching philosophy, “designed to support in the development of the whole person, build a sense of community and ignite a lifelong love of learning.”

The story of their departure from the county blends a dash of incompetence with a tendency to listen to the loudest voices, be they reasonable or not. In Las Vegas, NIMBYism — “Not in my backyard” — now applies not just to low-income housing or gas stations, but also, apparently, to schools.

The story is a little complicated, but let me boil it down.

In 1999, Lori Bossy and her sister bought a preschool on Sunset Road near the intersection with Pecos Road and operated their new school under the existing use permit. They wanted to start a private elementary school, as well, so they filed for a permit to do so with Clark County.

In the spring of 2002, Bossy filed for an extension of her permit, for the preschool and elementary school. She thought she received approval. Unfortunately, the county messed up and — unbeknown to the school and even the county itself — gave approval for the preschool but not the elementary school.

As a county staffer wrote recently, “Due to a miscommunication, a separate extension of the application for the private (elementary) school was not processed; therefore, the application expired.”

Still, no one was the wiser, and they operated the preschool and elementary school up to eighth grade, with a sign advertising as such, without complaint for years.

The real problems seem to have begun in the spring of 2009, when the school mulled plans to purchase a vacant lot two doors to the east for future expansion from preschool through a Montessori high school. By high school, we’re not talking Green Valley High School. We’re talking a handful of students, like 10. The neighbors voiced opposition. By neighbors, we’re not talking about the auto parts stores and restaurants and K-Mart that line Sunset, one of the busiest commercial thoroughfares in the entire valley. We’re mostly talking about the ones who live along Happy Lane, a private street that serves an oddly rural, secluded enclave behind the school. And by “neighbors,” we don’t necessarily mean actual neighbors. We mean people who live nearby.

Ultimately, the school backed down on the expansion plan. And you might think that at least the school’s status quo, serving preschool and elementary school-age children, would be respected.

But the problems continued. The school made an ill-advised attempt to move some students to an office building next door and built a gate in a wall between the two properties without a county permit, which led to a notice of violation before the school reversed itself.

Then in spring 2010, the county realized it permitted the preschool but not the elementary school back in 2002. Even though this was the county’s mistake, they still hit the school with a violation notice and prepared to shut it down.

In what it characterized as a “compromise,” the Clark County Commission allowed them to finish the school year. Shutting down a school and telling them to find someplace else to go strikes me as an edict, not a compromise.

The school was cleaved in two, with the preschool remaining on Sunset while the elementary school found a less-than-ideal location in Henderson a few streets away.

In the spring of 2010, when they were operating together, the preschool and K-8 schools had a combined enrollment of about 135 students. Now they have 28 in Henderson and 33 full time at its Sunset Road location. You can imagine the logistical problems of trying to manage two locations at once.

Click to enlarge photo

The view from the back lot of Montessori Visions Academy towards the houses on Happy Lane in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 6, 2012.

Bossy blames the drop in enrollment on the economy, but also the turmoil.

Once Bossy determined that the county made the mistake back in 2002, she went back to try again for an elementary school to join the existing preschool. She wanted to bring all her students together into one school community.

In April, the commission sided with school opponents and would only allow kindergarten through third grade.

Now, Bossy has given up on the county and will move the entire operation to Henderson.

“All I want to do is educate children,” Bossy said.

I spoke with a neighbor who lives behind the school and is a school opponent. She dislikes an unsightly modular building in the back of the school and believes Bossy has violated county codes and can’t be trusted.

The level of vitriol and personal attack aimed at Bossy during the county hearing was intense. Even if we were to believe the worst about Bossy, that she knowingly cut corners to avoid the county’s heavy hand — which Bossy vehemently denies — I still have to question how people could be so passionately opposed to a small private school. She’s not running a chemical plant.

My favorite was complaints about kids using neighbor yards as shortcuts to get to school. I thought that was a childhood rite of passage. Not anymore, apparently. (In fact, running through anyone’s yard in Nevada can get you shot, so I strongly recommend you don’t do so.)

The opponent said she quite simply doesn’t want to live so close to a school. There are too many children and too many after-school functions, she said.

A different neighbor on Happy Lane told me she liked hearing the sound of kids playing.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak was the opponents’ chief ally. He said the school created a quality of life issue for some neighbors and that the complaints of neighbors must be heard.

Fine, but why does it seem like all that’s ever required is 20 loud people to dictate policy, no matter how disruptive their demands on the rights of other property owners?

I asked Sisolak at what point schoolkids became so toxic. His response: “It used to be people wanted to live by schools and parks. They don’t anymore.”

May the school and its students prosper in Henderson.

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  1. And why does JP think that his opinions are more important than those of the neighborhood? This is democracy in action. The residents NOT the all powerful newspaper were actually heard by their legislatures and the issue discussed at a public hearing in person instead of by the newspaper. Guess that upsets old JP who obviously thinks his opinion should always be the final word.

  2. Some neighborhoods are happy to have schools close by and some dont? Thanks JP very interesting...

  3. Could use some balance, people, not the reporter. Parents need to REALIZE that the rest of us have other interests. Our sole interest is NOT how to help them raise their kids. Sure, some community cooperation is desired but can we stop expecting our neighbors to put up with anything and everything you do just cause you have a kid?

  4. I do feel a little sorry for the people on Happy Lane - at least for the ones who have lived there for years and years. They bought in a nice sort of rural area and expansion changed things. But that is the way it is and the school was there for 12 years and now they want to drive it out? It is too bad they are living in a dream world because the area is now commercial and it isn't going to change. I hope some really noisy business moves in. Or maybe they'll be happier to see the property lie empty and vandals use it as the access point to Happy Lane homes.

  5. and we wonder about the downfall of America?

  6. The Salem Witch trials were another example of 'Democracy in Action'. Are these the roots of a Christian Nation?

  7. Little by little Nevada is turning into a mini California, where the higher the wall the better the neighbor. It's sad to see us divided on so many silly issues and wonder why our elected officials can't compromise to get things moving in State and Federal issues affecting all of us. After attending the Nevada Republican convention and seeing how dysfunctional it conducted business, I stopped blaming politicians for our troubles. We the people are the reason our country is in decline, I hardly call this democracy. Thank you JP.

  8. Stupid, STUPID move by Sisolak! This will cost him the next election. I can already see the his opponents' ads that paint him as a politician who will do anything to cater to "Special Interests", including tearing down a school for innocent kids. I'm sure Tom Collins and everyone else are already drafting it up.

    @ Roslenda (Roberta Anderson):
    It would be nice if you would take the time to read the article before commenting. Residents were interviewed, and others here have stated their opinion. The definition of being "Balanced" when it comes to reporting is that all facts are presented, which did indeed occur when the Commission Hearing was documented here, and the negative opposition by residents were shown. Just because you don't agree with something doesn't automatically make it "biased". Also no one was asking for your or anyone else's help in "raising" their kids. Trying to add a Strawman argument into the conversation just erodes the validity of your comments even further.

    To everyone opposed to the neighbors and in favor of the school, I wouldn't worry about it. The truth of the matter is that these cranky-old residents are most likely on their deathbeds already and don't have very much longer to live. A Montessori school would have attracted affluential families that would have maintained the neighborhood. Since that attraction is no longer there, and now this neighborhood has gotten a bad rap, the only other people who will willingly buy these houses will be out-of-state investors that will turn them into Party Houses. It's already happened up in Summerlin. Ironically enough the one saving grace for property values, these people have now chased off. So rather than hearing kids playing during the day, they'll get to hear loud music and screams all night. Hope it was worth it!

  9. "The most comprehensive longitude research on Montessori Education in comparison to traditional education was published by a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, Dr. Angeline Lillard. Her article was so well researched and documented, that it is the only educational article ever to be published in a scientific magazine.

    Her findings and other studies' report that Montessori students have:

    *more interest in learning,
    *more self discipline
    *a greater understanding of truth and fairness
    *more creativity, especially in their writing
    *more independence
    *a better understanding of concepts from grammar and story structure to mathematical operations, algebra and geometry
    *a deep understanding of and how geography, history, social studies, and science are all related."

    For more information check out Angeline Lillard Ph.D's book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius and:
    http://faculty.virginia.edu/ASLillard/ho...
    ++++++++

    HOW DISGUSTING to have such an impressive organization in the neighborhood! And whenever the County makes a mistake, it SHOULD definitely be blamed on the likes of this type of educational organization's nonsense!

    Sisolak is obviously protecting the people on "Happy" Lane and this city, county, state, and country from the type of well-rounded, intellectual, high-achieving educated adults this school produces. How else can Nevada politicians continue to thrive?

    The Dumbing Down MUST continue! Eradicate the Educators! Run them out of EVERY neighborhood! No schools within 5 miles of any residence!

    WE WANT K-MARTS! WALMARTS! DRUG STORES! AUTO SHOPS! CASINOS! LIQUOR STORES! NOT SCHOOLS!

    Many thanks to the mental giants in charge.

  10. Thank you, BChap. You sound like a wonderful person.

  11. The school was there for years. The county made a mistake that took their license away. The county then lets the neighbors voice their opinion to cover the counties mistake.

    I would not be surprised to see this in the news in the future but it will involve an attorney and law suit.

    This school is paying the price to move because some clerk at the county made a mistake. Think about it.

  12. I wonder how many kids from Happy Lane went to this school? None? It is a private for profit business not neighborhood school for all. There are probably long lines of cars dropping off and picking up kids everyday. These things were not mentioned in the article. The right for people to have children does not preclude the right to peace and quiet from those that don't.

  13. County Commission screws up.

    County Commission makes horrible decision.

    Who's there to make more excuses for the County?

    Steve Sisolak.

    This broken record needs to end.

    Sure, Herrera, Kinkaid-Chauncey and Kenny were corrupt as the day is long, but at least they were borderline competent. Who knew one day we'd long for the days of Erin Kenny?

  14. A long and convoluted story of which I have no patience for. However, the school is a for profit business and therefore subject to the Darwinian laws of capitalism. The owners and parents and children just have to roll with it.

  15. Thanks to the residents if that neighborhood I will be able to close on the building in time to open all-nude juice bar by September.

    You guys are aces.

  16. "Sometimes it's hard not to feel like we live in a ridiculous town."

    sometimes.

    nice job, JPC.... even better with the loons that prove the point.

  17. We're not opposed to YOU raising YOUR kids. Some of us have raised ours and are tired. Some of us couldn't have kids and are hurt when we see .... Some of us are tired of paying endless taxes for you to have more kids than you can support. And, as covered, many are tired of the noise, traffic issues, self-entitlement of parents AND kids. What is the point of "education" if it sends you to a life of servitude and limited rewards for your labor? Montessori seems to be a good program. And they have the wisdom to leave where they are not wanted. But targeting quiet residential neighborhoods means they are always IMPOSING on some residents. Perhaps targeting commercial areas...

  18. I had a Montessori school at the top the the hill on my street. I went to that montessori. At the bottom of the hill is a preschool, it's been there for years at least 20. The kids from the preschool walk everyday to the playground a half block away. Okay I'm speaking of Boston so that may be the difference. One city loves, encourages, and nurtures education and Vegas well you know your city and state. I will never understand the bitterness adults have towards kids. I guess it is just a reflection of their bitter lives like @roslenda "some of us couldn't have kids and are hurt when we see..." says it all. Dang Vegas can't just once, just once have, you try..to have a positive attitude towards your neighbors. Maybe

  19. If the Clark County School District is so hard up on cash, why doesn't lease a couple of their schools to the Montessori-taught educators?

  20. BChap, you are one cool person! We need more of you.