“My father said if you love what you do, you’ll do it best,” says Beverley McGhee, co-founder and Superintendent of Alexander Montessori School. “But everybody isn’t going to be good at everything. We’re all meant to do something special, and we all have a gift for something.” Beverley’s lifelong gift is her passion for learning. She graduated from college with a degree in Education and planned to teach high school, but no positions were available at the time. Instead, she took a job teaching fifth and seventh grade at a rural school for migrant fruit pickers. She had 45 students in her fifth-grade math class, and some of them still didn’t know their multiplication tables.
“I bought bags of pretzels and Fruit Loops for them to count with,” Beverley says, laughing. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was fresh out of college and hadn’t studied to teach those grades, but I knew math was important.” After Beverley started a family of her own, the subject of learning became much more personal. “I got married and had my babies, and that’s when I really thought about education and what I wanted for my kids. I wanted something special. Then the neighborhood started coming to see me, and people talked to me and encouraged me to start a school.”
In 1963, Beverley and her husband Jim McGhee bought a house on Red Road that was being rented to a fraternity at University of Miami and turned it into Alexander Day School, with the family living upstairs and the school classes conducted downstairs. Beverley and Jim’s two sons were the first students, with three other local children soon joining. As the school grew, Beverley was introduced to the Montessori Method of teaching. Impressed and inspired by the system, Beverly trained as both a teacher and a teacher trainer in the Montessori Method, and Alexander Day School became Alexander Montessori School.
By 1968, the school’s children were performing so well and demand was so great that the McGhees opened a second campus in Palmetto Bay. Beverley never dreamed that what began as a single school would eventually become a chain of four locations with one of the largest enrollments of any Montessori school in the country. “Every time I would fill a classroom, my husband would get another property and a new space,” she explains. “He was a real estate man, and he really believed in what we were doing with the school.”
Now 94 years young, Beverley is still enthusiastic about education and says her favorite part of being a teacher was the variety of the job. “Kids are never boring,” she says. “You never know what to expect with them.” She’s also proud that so many students have been taught and nurtured at Alexander Montessori School over the past six decades. “When children are born, everything is so wonderful, every day is brand new, and every day they are going to learn something. The world is like magic. From the Montessori Method, we say don’t give kids a doll house in which to play, give them a children’s house in which to learn.”
Beverley has lived in Palmetto Bay for 47 years, where three of her school’s four campuses are also located. “I’m rather proud of Palmetto Bay, and I also feel invested in it,” she says. “We’ve brought many families here because they were seeking a Montessori school or they called the national office and asked where they could send their children in the Miami area. And when a child starts with us at 18 months and stays until they’re 12 years old, that’s a pretty solid citizen for our community. We’re like family here.”