Aleph Bet Montessori School to relocate

Students at Aleph Bet Montessori are shown making blueberry muffins last year. Photo by Ellie Lichtash

The Aleph Bet Montessori School is on the move again. Starting in December, it will operate out of the Whittier Woods Center, which is located next to Whittier Woods Park and Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

School officials learned that they would not be able to remain at their current location at the former Weller Road Elementary School on Grosvenor Lane in Bethesda, which was rented from the Montgomery County School Board.

An all-out campaign by school officials and parents to contact county, state and federal politicians and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington led them to the new facility.

Ninety students in preschool through sixth grade will move to the new location after the Thanksgiving holiday break.

“This is a wonderful location and neighborhood in Bethesda only a few miles from where we are now,” school officials wrote in an email blast to parents. The school has a two-year lease on the building.

The site has been used for a childcare center and elementary students. Adjacent are a playground, softball field and two lighted tennis courts.

The school building is closed and “routine checks and inspections” will begin soon, the letter said.

The school board informed Aleph Bet Montessori School that it needed the former Weller School to house students from Wayside Elementary School in Potomac while that school undergoes “a revitalization and expansion project for 18 months,” said school spokesman Dana Tofig.

“The leadership of Aleph Bet was well aware that we were going to be using the building … and knew that their lease would be ending,” Tofig said. “In fact, their lease was originally to end in December 2014 and we extended it a year.”

Added Tofig, “the school’s leadership has known this day was coming since they signed the lease.”

But several parents challenged that.

Albert Costilo, a parent of two students, said the school was given “two weeks’ notice. That’s what I heard.”

Another parent, Sigurd Neubauer, said, “Clearly, it’s two competing interpretations of what happened.” He said, “It does not seem conceivable” school officials would put the school in jeopardy and not tell anyone that the lease was being terminated.

He wrote a two-page letter to Montgomery Councilman Roger Berliner, a Democrat who represents the western part of the county, noting, “The lease was rescinded on short notice this summer.”

His July 14 letter continued, “We believe that Montgomery County acted in bad faith by terminating our lease on short notice and for the middle of the academic year. The letter of the contract may allow for this. However, the spirit in which the contract was reached, and the county’s relationship to the school, makes it unthinkable that our children may be uprooted from their educational home.”

He urged Berliner to get involved because “our beloved school may be forced to close for the year if it cannot find a new facility. This would have devastating consequences for our school and our community at large.”

After the new location was announced, Neubauer praised Berliner “for his leadership on helping getting this issue resolved.”

The school opened in 2005 at the Aish Center for Jewish Learning in North Bethesda. Its curriculum combines the traditional Montessori approach with an emphasis on Hebrew and Jewish learning and practices. It moved to the Ken Gar Park building in Kensington in 2012 before moving to the school on Grosvenor Lane.

It is accredited by the Maryland Department of Education and the Association Montessori International. ■

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