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Montessori School of La Jolla atop Mount Soledad to close June 9 as lease ends

Montessori School of La Jolla's last day at 6540 Soledad Mountain Road is Thursday, June 9.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

In a development that its leadership describes as “devastating,” Montessori School of La Jolla will close Thursday, June 9, following the expiration of its lease at 6540 Soledad Mountain Road, ending decades of serving little learners and their families.

The adjacent San Diego French American School, at 6550 Soledad Mountain Road, manages the property and did not offer Montessori a new lease so that SDFAS can expand into the space.

San Diego French American entered a 60-year master lease with the San Diego Unified School District in 2018, meaning SDFAS can operate and modify the property as it wishes. At the time of the signing, Montessori School of La Jolla was permitted to remain on the property for three more years until its existing lease expired in 2021, according to SDFAS Head of School Mark Rosenblum. The lease was extended for an additional year, ending with the current 2021-22 school year.

“We want to thank the Montessori community for so many years as good neighbors on the Mount Soledad site and we wish them well,” Rosenblum said.

Though discussions had been underway in anticipation of the lease ending, it still came as a jolt to Montessori School management.

Owner and Executive Director Shannon Bingham said she found out about SDFAS’ plans from community parents.

“There had been talks about the French American School’s strategic plan over the last few years, but I had found out [that a decision had been made] from a French American School parent that had heard we were closing,” Bingham said. “We didn’t know what they were talking about. Then a few parents said something, so … we set up a meeting with the school. We explained we wanted to set up a sublease. They said, matter of fact, they were not going to sublease to us.”

Though she is “very sad” about the closure, the Casa Montessori program in Carlsbad that Bingham runs will still operate.

“We have had generations of families who came here as children and then sent their children,” she said. “They know the impact that we have made in the community and the education we could provide. We still have students that come back. There is a tight connection with a lot of our families.”

One of them is the Quick family, who sent three children to Montessori School of La Jolla.

“It’s sad,” Alex Quick said. “The teachers were amazing with the kids. The school has been extremely well-run. My kids were reading at an early age and were ready for kindergarten. It’s a real loss.”

“We might not be the largest school in La Jolla, but we have made a huge impact.”

— Shannon Bingham, executive director of Montessori School of La Jolla

Montessori School of La Jolla was established in 1975 on the campus of Decatur Elementary School (which closed in 1989) as an offshoot to the Montessori School in The Village.

“My mom started the school,” Bingham said. “Her first school was the La Jolla Village Montessori on Fay Avenue and then started where we are as an extension of that one. She started by leasing classrooms, but then she leased the property and built the school up from there.”

The school uses portable classrooms built into the ground to look permanent. When the decision was made not to renew the lease, Montessori School management considered moving the buildings to another site “so we could continue to serve the La Jolla community,” Bingham said. No viable site was found, so rather than demolish the school, SDFAS decided to buy the buildings and all the equipment.

“So we can just pack up and go,” Bingham said. “It’s sad to close this chapter. There is a lot of history in the community. We might not be the largest school in La Jolla, but we have made a huge impact.”

SDFAS plans

San Diego French American School is expanding onto the Montessori property to meet initiatives in the school’s strategic plan, Rosenblum said.

“We want to continue to offer what our mission states, which is exceptional bilingual education within a vibrant international community, preparing students to become confident, responsible and engaged global citizens,” he said. “To do that, we need to have the space. … While we didn’t need the space at first, we made it clear at meetings [with Montessori] that we had this plan in place and we anticipated needing the space.”

He said using the Montessori School property creates more opportunities for campus redevelopment and would create new classrooms for younger students. The school will begin construction Aug. 1 on new art and media labs in what was two kindergarten rooms.

“It’s going to be gorgeous,” Rosenblum said. “We’re a humble school that is on the rise and we’re taking two huge kindergarten classrooms and turning them into a well-designed arts center space and the other for student media. We’re all about cultivating creativity, and art needs to be more present in the curriculum. And media literacy feeds directly to our global citizenship mission. For the 2022-23 academic year, San Diego French American School is excited to utilize the entire property for the first time for our 360 students.”

To learn more about San Diego French American School, visit sdfrenchschool.org. ◆