Judith Bang-Kolb: Sausalito’s Headmistress

By Steefenie Wicks

Judith Bang-Kolb outside the Sparrow Creek School
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Sausalito’s first school was established in Old Town in 1869.  It was a modest schoolhouse with a small group of children who lived on the hill as well as along the waterfront.   The Sparrow Creek Montessori School keeps with that tradition of being a small establishment that serves the young students of Sausalito, Marin City and Mill Valley.  Established in 1973 but not fully opened to students until the 1980’s, this was the dream of Executive Director Judith Bang-Kolb, the Headmistress of the school.

Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Manhattan, Judith found herself relocating to the Sausalito waterfront in the early 1970’s.  She lived anchored out in Richardson’s Bay for a number of years while she was beginning the process of building the school.  She is the first to tell you that living anchored out was one of the most creative periods of her life.  That creativity is still very apparent when one visits her school.  Built into the structure of the building is one large window that takes up the entire side of the building.  Bang-Kolb explains, “I had this dream about what it should look like, I wanted to have a window that was like our writing, how the straight line connects with the curved line.  I also wanted to include basic shapes like circles, rectangles and so on. Finally, after much thought, this is what I came up with.”  She continues, “This creation was the masterpiece of a lot of really brilliant artists who came to help my dream come true.”

Bang-Kolb assures me that in today’s world she would never be able to have this school the way she designed it.  In the beginning she set about teaching herself how to saw wood, how to screw and glue.  “I could never really swing a hammer but I could use a screw gun and I knew how to glue, so most of the structure of the school is screwed and glued,” she admits. That’s how the building was put together by Bang-Kolb, her friends and those who wanted to help see the project succeed.

But before she was able to open her doors she had to get approval, not only from the City but from neighbors of the school.  So she set about writing up her own petition in two versions.  While both explained the project, a children’s school and day care, one was to be signed by those in favor of the project, and one by those opposed.

Bang-Kolb went from house to house, knocking on doors to get the residents to sign the petitions; in the end only one family objected to the project. 

Today the Sparrow Creek Montessori School is a well-established institution of diverse students in Sausalito.  Over the decades that the school has been opened, Bang-Kolb has seen students come back with their own kids, wanting them to experience what they had as small children.   The school’s program has a special emphasis on the arts, music, yoga, movement and gardening.  Bang-Kolb explains that when she first saw the property she was impressed that this location was the last remaining orchard of fruit trees on Caledonia Street.  Over the years she has done her best to preserve what she could with the help of her students who tend to the garden, keeping the plants and trees alive.  She believes that the Montessori method of practical-life materials that involve children in precise, purposeful movement, allows them to concentrate on their work as they move at their own pace uninterrupted.  Her success is exhibited each year in the growth of her class population.  Bang-Kolb feels that the investment she made back in the 1970’s was well worth the gamble because it just keeps getting better.

“But believe me,” she continues, “there were times when I truly doubted that this would ever happen.  There was a time in Sausalito when if you wanted to stop a project then you just proved that they did not have enough parking. Traffic, that was the key.  So one night I had been called before the City Council to prove that I had the right amount of parking and drop off space for the school. It was a full council; Sally Stanford was there but I swear I think she was sleeping.

“Her head was down; every now and then she would kind of ‘snort.’ I had just about given up as one of the Council members led another verbal attack on my project, when all of a sudden Sally looked up and said, ‘Christ, two and a half year olds don’t park cars!’ After that meeting, till this day I have not had a problem with the City of Sausalito – a place that I personally feel is as close to paradise as one can find.”