Group to pursue charter school

Montessori committee says school district proposal didn't go far enough


— The Steamboat Springs Montessori Steering Committee will pursue a publicly funded Montessori charter school that it hopes to open in the fall of 2003.

Committee members said Thursday the school will be designed to accommodate children age 3 through the sixth grade. Committee members estimate the school will have four to five classrooms and an annual operating budget of $500,000 to start.

The committee plans to discuss the proposed charter school with the Steamboat Springs School Board, which must approve the charter application, at the board's June 10 meeting. The school district already has one charter school the North Routt Charter School, which opened in the Clark area last fall.

The Montessori committee made up of 12 parents decided the charter school was its best option after concluding a proposal by the Steamboat Springs School District didn't go far enough in meeting the committee's goals. That proposal agreed to incorporate the "best practices" of Montessori into the curricula at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools.

Committee members said 70 families representing 100 children have expressed interest in a publicly funded Montessori program. Those families felt more than the "best practices" of Montessori are needed for such a program to be successful.

Montessori is an educational method developed a century ago by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian educator. Montessori utilizes multi-age classrooms and emphasizes independent decision-making by students, allowing them to help guide their own education.

School Superintendent Cyndy Simms said she has reviewed the steering committee's decision to pursue a charter school and that she plans to meet with the group to discuss the charter application.

The steering committee has been working on public Montessori for eight months. The committee asked the district to consider three options for integrating Montessori into the public schools:

n Creating a strand or separate Montessori classrooms within the existing schools.

n Creating a separate Montessori focus school.

n Or pursuing a charter school.

School district administrators said they feared a strand or focus school could create division and disrupt the success the elementary schools have enjoyed recently.

Jody Patten, a steering committee member, said the group does not want to hurt the existing elementary programs.

"Let's face it, the test scores are good at these two schools," Jody Patten said.

Patten said the committee feels that while the current school system works well, it doesn't work well for everybody.

Patten said parents should have a choice in how their children are educated and that Montessori shouldn't be limited to only people who can afford to send their child to a private school.

The proposed Montessori charter school "will get a more diverse population if it is public," she said.

Lesa Radford, a steering committee member who operates Steamboat's only Montessori preschool, said an estimated 20 percent of students struggle in traditional schools and that providing a public Montessori alternative will help save some of those students.

Committee members said a majority of the families who have expressed interest in public Montessori have children who are preschool age.

Initially, committee members estimate the charter school would have about 24 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, while most of the students will enroll in the Montessori preschool.

Committee members said parents will have to pay tuition for the preschool program.

Radford said students would be able to enter the school at any age through the sixth grade. Children will not be required to attend the preschool to enroll in the Montessori school. She said the multi-age component of Montessori allows children to learn quickly from the older students in their classrooms and adapt to the new learning system with ease.

Carrie Requist, another steering committee member, said the group will begin discussion with the local board of education, a step necessary to receive their charter. If the charter is declined by the local board of education, the steering committee can appeal the decision to the state board of education.


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