By Meredith Knight
Dr. Maria Montessori was a trailblazer, revolutionizing learning based on children’s own creative potential and individual interests, their drive to learn, and their innate internal discipline. Effie Saifi brought that celebrated Montessori method to Plano and local parents can’t thank her enough.
Hundreds of Plano parents rightly credit Miss Effie and Montessori Children’s House with helping develop their children socially, physically, and emotionally. Sadly, Miss Effie’s accomplishments of almost three decades are in jeopardy. But you can help. Read on to learn how.
Montessori Children’s House Plano
When Miss Effie invested in a piece of land in 1995 and set about designing The Montessori Children’s House, not a detail was left to chance. Her goal was to craft a calm, engaging, and safe environment where children from infancy through nine years old could feel at home while experiencing the joy of a Montessori education.
In her mind, she already foresaw additional phases of growth which would add more classrooms, both inside and out, additional parking, an indoor gym, shaded play areas, and more. She also planned to include a water play park for hot summer months and sports field for elementary-age kids.
With all this in mind, Miss Effie purchased enough land to expand as her student population grew. And grow it did, as happy parents told other parents, and some grew up to enroll their own kids in the school that had done so much for them. In five-star online reviews, parents gush about the caring faculty, the individual attention their children receive, and the things they learn while interacting with the natural world.
“The outdoor component is crucial to a true Montessori education,” Miss Effie said. “It allows children to explore with all their senses, fosters scientific inquiry, and inspires creativity. We’re at a point now where we have families eager to enroll in Montessori Children’s House, but we don’t have the room.”
Plans to Expand
No problem, right? Miss Effie planned for this inevitability. Time to embark upon phase two of her American dream. Unfortunately, the City of Plano threw a wrench in the plans of this dedicated educator and all the teachers, children, and parents who depend on her. The City of Plano asked Miss Effie to sell them some of her land to expand a hike and bike trail to connect six cities. Miss Effie declined their offer because she already had plans for her land. The city first appeared to be supportive and understanding but surprisingly filed a lawsuit claiming “eminent domain” to seize the land from the school.
In a 2017 meeting for which Miss Effie received no notification, former Plano Director of Parks and Recreation, Robin Reeves, mispresented Montessori Children’s House to the council members in hopes of obtaining an “ordinance of necessity.” He said having the bike trail there would not impact the expansion of the school, that the special-use permit was expired (when, in fact, it never expires), and that the neighbors on the other side of the creek needed to enjoy their backyards.
At the same meeting, Mr. Reeves admitted there are three other viable alternatives, but insisted that taking Miss Effie’s land would be cheaper and easier for the city. The land Miss Effie had skimped and saved to buy, the land she’d owned for decades, the land she depended upon to continue providing a valued service to the children of Plano would be taken from her, and she was expected to hand it over without objection.
The Fight Began
Clearly, they didn’t know this feisty, lifelong educator and they underestimated how important MCH is to the parents of Plano. “The city is claiming eminent domain which allows them to expropriate private property and convert it to public use,” Miss Effie said. “But eminent domain doesn’t apply when there are such obvious alternative options. They’re claiming an ordinance of necessity which means they have to have this land. While a bike path is a nice thing for a city to have, it’s not a necessity. The only way Mr. Reeves obtained a permit from the city council in 2017 was by telling them things he knew to be untrue.”
Mr. Reeves also claimed that placing a bike path directly alongside a school would not impact the school. “Are we going to have children playing and learning outside with total strangers biking only feet away?” Miss Effie asked. “That opens up all kinds of possibilities of stranger abduction, custody issues, and more. In an age where we’re all thinking about ways to make schools safer, how could a bike path through our school property even be an option? This would not only jeopardize the safety of students but hinder the school’s plans of expansion. This land was chosen because of its secluded nature which allows children to feel they’re in their own backyard.”
How You Can Help
It’s simple. The city needs to hear from as many people as possible that this school matters, that Miss Effie needs to keep her land and realize her American dream, that the children and parents of Plano deserve to have a true Montessori schooling option. It takes only minutes to write a letter to Mayor John Muns and your city council member voicing your support for Miss Effie and Montessori Children’s House, keeping the land that rightly belongs to them and continuing this vital work.
Send letters for Mayor John Muns and council members to 1520 K Avenue Plano, Texas 75074. You can also find a city council staff directory at TeamPlano.com complete with email addresses and phone numbers of the mayor and council members. Let your voice be heard! Help your fellow Planoite keep her land and school intact. “This school is my American dream,” Miss Effie said. “It’s something I’ve worked hard to build up and pass down to my children. I thank you for helping me keep my land.”