- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

One of Washington's most prestigious thoroughfares known for its cachet, upscale stores and high-end rents has made room for some children on the block who are attending a new facility run by the Franklin Montessori School of Rockville.

"I feel really good about being so close," said Lesley Rogers, a lawyer who lives about a block away from the Connecticut Avenue school. "This is painless. I can be on the computer at 12:25 p.m. and pick my daughter up at 12:30 p.m."

Ms. Rogers said that her 2-year-old daughter, Mariam Matchavariani, enjoys the school and has made friends with classmates who live in the same apartment building, near the Forest Hills campus in Northwest.

When Ms. Rogers returned to the District from New York, she went to the Rockville campus to enroll her daughter, but quickly decided on the nearby school.

The storefront school between the family-owned Esfahan Oriental Rug store and the Shanghai Gardens restaurant has 11,000 square feet of space and floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Enrollment is at 40 toddlers, preschoolers and kindergartners, but school administrators expect to have 50 more student by September.

Penny Towles, the school's director of education, said that the decision to expand and bring the Montessori philosophy into the District had been on administrators' minds for a couple of years. Then the opportunity presented itself when the building became available.

"We tackled problems of renovations and parking, then one-by-one everything fell in place," Ms. Towles said. "Just figuring out if we could convert the space into classrooms and fit in all of the educational aspects [including] outdoor play came first."

Ms. Towles, 35, said her husband, Martin, who works at SKI Architects and Planners in Bethesda, volunteered his expertise to help maintain the building's character while making it an attractive place for children to learn and play.

"Every classroom has some special feature, whether it's a window cut out or an interesting wall," she said.

The Rev. Richard Nugent, 49, toured the school in a hard hat when he and his wife were considering a school for their 2-year-old son, Asa.

Mr. Nugent, a longtime resident of the Connecticut Avenue corridor and self-described "urban dweller," said many D.C. neighborhoods lack the right mix of commercial, residential and educational facilities.

Though the Van Ness shopping area on Connecticut Avenue had trouble keeping stores after the Safeway closed, he thinks the school will anchor businesses.

"This is a good symbiotic," Mr. Nugent said. "Downtown was sorely lacking residential areas, now it's exclusive. Residential areas help businesses."

The school is only five blocks from the home of Mr. Nugent, the minister of Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Columbia, and his wife, Eileen Kane, who works at the State Department.

Area merchants have also been supportive of the school's recent move to Connecticut Avenue.

Farhad Golchin of Esfahan provided the school with rugs, and restaurateur Rai Shao of Shanghai Gardens allowed the school's staff to use his furniture for meetings. He also provided free meals, Ms. Towles said.

Mr. Golchin enrolled his 4-year-old daughter, Parisa, at the school, and Mr. Shao's children attended school at the Forestville campus location.

"We're thrilled," Ms. Towles said. "So many people who walk by are pushing strollers or are expectant mothers. And lots of people are saying, 'Wow, I didn't know you were here.' Some people slow down in traffic and call us from their cars."

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