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After 40 years: a new day at Sunrise Montessori school

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Roger Gribbins and Amber Hutton recently stepped into the roles of co-owners of Sunrise Montessori School in Napa. After leading the school for more than 40 years, founders Janice Tres and Bonnie Sauer have retired.

“I was raised in Napa and my mom was a teacher at Silverado Middle School for 30 years,” said Hutton, who has a Lower Elementary Montessori Teaching Certification. “I grew up with Bonnie Sauer’s son and my first Montessori experience was 16 years ago working at Sunrise as a teaching assistant.”

“When Roger and I completed teaching at international schools in 2019, it made sense to return to Napa and to our family. I was welcomed back as an elementary assistant teacher at Sunrise when we arrived. Our two boys are students here.”

Gribbins and Hutton taught domestically in the U.S. for several years before going overseas. They then taught for 10 years at schools in Seoul, South Korea, and The KAUST School in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Both have their master’s degrees in education. Hutton stayed in touch with her former colleagues at Sunrise and it was a natural fit to return.

Tres and Sauer both said they are thrilled with the new owners.

“It’s hard to say how delighted we are with the fact that they’ve taken on the school,” said Sauer. “They have fabulous world and Montessori visions. It’s a fabulous match. Since they’ve taught around the world, they have greatly informed perspective in how they see things.”

Tres agrees. “After living and working in other countries, Roger and Amber bring an expanded world view and sense of humanity which fits so well with Montessori,” said Tres. “They both have an enthusiasm for education and a passion for the Montessori philosophy, which will enable the school to continue to flourish.”

“Janice and I are thrilled,” concluded Sauer. “We weren’t going to sell to just anyone. We’re happy that the students and staff have this couple to lead them.”

“Amber was teaching at Sunrise, and I joined the board of the Friends of Sunrise Montessori,” said Gribbins of his initial involvement when they returned to Napa. “I’d recently taught as an educational technology coach and consulted about the school’s technical needs in a variety of ways. When COVID hit and we had to pivot to distance learning, that experience was welcomed. I helped develop the distance learning program with Bonnie, Janice and (Head of School and Elementary Director) Sabine Hirsohn.”

“We’re both educators and lifelong learners,” Gribbins continued. “We saw being co-owners of Sunrise as an exciting opportunity.”

Starting in the fall semester, Gribbins will be Head of School, and Hutton will remain an elementary teacher and share the ownership responsibilities. The pair are dedicated to the Montessori method of teaching.

Dr. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori method in the early 1900s. According to the American Montessori Society, it is student-led and self-paced, guided and enriched by Montessori-trained teachers, peers and the environment. It is a child-centered method of education with children of different ages in the same classroom and teachers who encourage independence. Montessori NW defines it as a method of education that is based on hands-on learning, self-directed activity, and collaborative play.

“What might we do differently with the school?” asked Gribbins. “In the short term, it’s getting back to normal. We had several programs that were put on hold due to distancing. We want to reinstate those. Schools in general were impacted by COVID and shifted in the last year. There was a change in environment and enrollment in Napa Valley.”

“Sunrise has a great reputation and a solid foundation. We just need to get back to where we were. We had so many community events that had to be cancelled, such as a special fundraiser, educational and evening programs.”

Hutton added, “We have a strong sense of community that we will bring back safely.”

August 30 is the first day back to school and they say there are still openings in their primary programs that they’d like to see at full capacity.

They are educators and Montessori parents, but what about the business end of running the school?

Gribbins laughed. “I learned a lot about business and financial management with a group in South Korea, so financial and business records are not new to me. I had a small photography business in Saudi Arabia. Managing and running this business is a new opportunity and we’re learning every day. The school has run smoothly for 40 years, so there’s a bookkeeper and accountant in place. Bonnie and Janice are available to us in a consulting capacity.”

“We’re in contact with other Montessori schools in the valley so we have a good support network,” said Hutton. “We have many friends and colleagues from overseas who moved back to the United States and are doing similar things. We’ll have another support system that’s even wider than the Napa Valley.”

“Many parents and school staff have been helpful,” said Gribbins. “They’ve offered suggestions and ideas.”

As to their long-term vision for Sunrise Montessori, the couple doesn’t see any radical changes.

“We’d like to expand the summer school and after-school programs,” said Gribbins. “Eventually, we’ll be improving the physical campus with site work.”

“What resonates with us is that the school reflects the type of parents we are and hope to be, true to the Montessori philosophy,” said Hutton. “We hold strong to Maria Montessori’s beliefs and work toward that.”

Sunrise Montessori of Napa Valley Inc. is located at 1226 Salvador Avenue, Napa, 707-253-1105, sunrisemontessorinapa.com.

This Napa kitten is lucky to be alive. She was discovered hiding inside the engine compartment of a car that had just driven about 30 miles from Vacaville to Napa. A woman passing by helped rescue the kitten and ended up taking her home. Her name is Lemon.

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You can reach business editor Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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