Association of 

Sharon Damore


Executive Director

Sharon Damore

January 2014


Dear AIMS members,


As I had announced in the September letter to the membership, my focus and responsibility as your Executive Director has shifted to policy and advocacy related to Montessori education in the state of Illinois.


I want to take an opportunity to update you on the work that has recently gained my attention, as well as encourage you to help as we promote high quality Montessori education for the children of Illinois.


State Coalition

AIMS has joined with AMI/USA and AMS Advocacy Work Group Collaborative, as a new state coalition, to strengthen our Illinois Montessori voice. Resulting partnerships and resources increase our capacity to ensure that high quality Montessori education is recognized in Illinois policy and regulations. 


Our Co-Leaders are Debbie Senoff-Langford, AIMS President and HOS, Rogers Park Montessori School and Patty Eggerding, HOS, West Suburban Montessori School.   The national organizations support our work through such activities as webinars where state coalition leader share their challenges and progress to date such as recognition of Montessori credentials, Montessori validation protocols, and approved Montessori curriculum.  Our small, but powerful steering committee (also includes Anna Perry, Seton Montessori Institute and myself) meets on a regular basis.  QRIS is our identified issue (known as ExceleRate Illinois).


Illinois State Coalition/AIMS and the Maryland Association of Montessori Schools have recently co-sponsored a new website for communication on QRIS and other policy and advocacy activity for Montessori coalitions and state and regional Montessori organization representatives.  Please go to see and view our exciting work to date.  And check out my blog on Communicating with Diplomacy and Tact as we begin here in Illinois to navigate the landscape of ExeleRate (QRIS).


ExceleRate Illinois (QRIS)

On a federal level, Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) have been established to ensure state accountability for high quality EC programming for all children across our nation.


QRIS is a federal initiative, and delegated to the states for implementation. We believe that the system, in Illinois, begins with early childhood programs accepting federal/state tuition subsidies and/or licensed “centers.”  While we still have more questions than answers, we are certain that Montessorians must take a proactive stance and not be blindsided by any potential QRIS negative ratings of our schools which will be shared with the public.


These QRIS programs give a rating or grade to every EC program based on numerous domains: 

  • ·         Environmental furnishings, materials and curriculum;
  • ·         Staff qualifications and professional development;
  • ·         Management and leadership skills;
  • ·         Parent involvement;
  • ·         Provisions for inclusion of children with special needs.


Please join us on Friday, February 21st, AIMS Conference, Chicago, Administrators Day, for a session on ExceleRate Illinois.  Karen Zehnal, Aurora Montessori School, will join me for the presentation.  Aurora is one of the first schools to go through the QRIS process in Illinois.



ExceleRate Training for Illinois Montessorians


I, personally, have taken the training on the Environmental Rating Scales and the Program Administration Scale.   These are the tools that will be used to evaluate your school.


I urge you to sign up for training in 2014 AS WELL as register yourself and your teachers (for levels 3-6 and under) on the Gateways Professional Development Registry  Training and registration results in higher ratings.


As a school administrator, you can take training on the two aforementioned assessments at your local professional development provider.  These providers range from Illinois Action for Children serving the Chicago area and INCCRA which serves outside of Chicago; you will need to locate your local INCCRA provider. 


Look for training on introduction to the QRIS; ERS; and PAS.  Each of the seminars are about $15.00 each and located throughout the state depending on the PD provider. 


In addition, registration membership of EC providers on the Gateways Registry is encouraged and results in a higher rating on the QRIS system.


Overview of training providers:


Illinois Action for Children  




Additional links information on Excelerate and QRIS rating sales are available on the following links:


The state of Illinois will be utilizing a QRIS called ExceleRate, The actual assessment tools that will be used for school/program evaluations include:


Populating the Committee of the Illinois Early Learning Council

Nominations of Montessori educators have been submitted to populate the committees of the Early Learning Council (ELC).  The ELC is the body, authorized by the Governor’s Office, to provide oversight for twenty-seven early childhood initiatives across Illinois, including QRIS.  Through increased representation, we can increase our voice and influence


Illinois Montessori Census

The census and survey is slowly but surely being finalized.  Looks like this will occur in January.  It will be so valuable as we talk with legislators and policy makers about quality Montessori education in Illinois. Please complete it when you receive it.


AMS and AMI/USA’s help and support for Illinois:

  • ·         AMS has recently submitted to the Illinois Governor’s Office an application for approval for AMS School Accreditation recognition for ExceleRate.  AMI is also in the process of applying.  Accreditations and recognitions may improve ratings on ExceleRate.
  • ·         AMS and AMI/USA are providing new staff to help state coalitions such as Illinois.  In the past few months, Christine Lowry has worked as a consultant focused on QRIS.  She has been instrumental in helping Illinois with the Accreditation application as well as updating the aforementioned website:  Jaye Epsy, the Policy Manager and the soon to be filled Policy Coordinator positions are shared jointly by AMS and AMI/USA. 


Proceeds from the AMS “Denim and Diamonds” Gala at the AMS conference help fund these position; please buy a ticket if you are attending in March and further increase national resources that benefit Illinois Montessori children.


  • ·         On-going conversations are occurring with the AMS Research Committee leadership regarding potential research studies to support requests for accreditation program rigor, Montessori validation studies, and research on student outcomes.


  • ·         And I am the Co-Chair of the national Montessori Policy Committee (formerly the AMS Policy Committee) and an active member of the national QRIS subcommittee.  As a result, I am engaged in the conversation across the nation to support and augment our efforts.   As a co-presenter for AMS with Christine Lowry, we will conduct our second national webinar on QRIS in January.


Montessori School Exemptions for DCFS

Two routes for exemptions appear in the regulations on DCFS Exemption from Licensure as According to the Child Care Act of 1969:


            Day programs* are exempt from licensure as day care centers to the extent that their services are

            provided  exclusively to children who have attained the age of 3 years:


       1)Programs or that portion of programs recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). 


       2) Programs operated by a school registered with the ISBE and recognized or accredited by a

           national or multi-state e educational organization or association, which regularly recognizes

           or accredited schools such as Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American

           Montessori Society (AMS).


Controversy exists across our Montessori schools with the interpretation of the second exemption.  I urge you to look at the language carefully and determine whether you legally qualify for an exemption.  We do not want our schools taking exemptions for which they are not eligible.  Schools doing this jeopardize Montessori in the state of Illinois.


ISBE Non-Public School Recognition Program

When viewing the exemptions listed above, one undisputed exemption for Montessori schools is the ISBE Non-Public School Recognition Program. 


I recently have become a contracted, ISBE team leader for the Non-Public School Program.  I believe that this is an excellent choice for exemption and recognition for many of our Montessori schools that include elementary programs.  If you are eligible, I would recommend that you apply.  I would be happy to talk with you further about the eligibility and details of the recognition program.  I will also try and provide some workshops on the recognition program if we have a critical mass of schools going deciding to go through the program. 


The Importance of Exemptions, Recognition and Accreditation Programs

As we navigate the unfamiliar landscape of QRIS Montessori schools should pursue and maintain all appropriate school exemptions, recognitions, and accreditations that articulate that we represent high quality schools that implement high quality Montessori education.  In doing so, we strengthen our voices in support of high quality Early Childhood education for the children of Illinois.


Please follow my updates in the Executive Director’s Column on the AIMS website.


This is the time for you to show your courage and your willingness to work towards the collective good.   I am confidant that Illinois Montessori schools will rise to the challenge. Together we can keep Montessori education in Illinois strong.


@ Association of Illinois Montessori Schools