State to look at Montessori school

Board of Education can uphold denial or send issue back to local district

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— The fate of a public Montessori school in Steamboat Springs lies in the hands of the Colorado Board of Education.

The eight-member board will decide today whether to uphold the Steamboat Springs School District's denial of the Montessori charter school application or to send the issue back to the school district for reconsideration.

The hearing is at 1:30 p.m. in Denver.

"It's going to be an interesting day," Superintendent Cyndy Simms said. "It could go either way."

"We hope to prevail and that we can maintain a positive working relationship with the school board," said Jody Patten, a member of the Montessori Steering Committee.

Under the Colorado Charter Schools Act, the state board can order the school district to reconsider the application, but it can't grant the charter on first appeal. However, if the state board moves to reconsider, and the school district again denies the application, a second appeal could result in the state board granting of a charter regardless of the school district's wishes.

The legal process began in June, when the Montessori Steering Committee presented to the school board its application for a charter school serving pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

The board denied the charter school request on the recommendation of the District Accountability Committee, Superintendent Cyndy Simms, finance director Dale Mellor and content standards director Kelly Stanford, who each reviewed the proposal.

The proposed school would divert district funds away from the other schools, thereby reducing the number and amount of programs and services available to the majority of district students, the board said in its Oct. 14 decision.

Patten contends the diverted funds would not place constraints on the school district.

The board also said the application "proposed to convert, in substantial part, an existing private Montessori school serving preschool-aged students (the Yampa Valley Montessori Education Center in Steamboat Springs) into a public charter school, contrary to state law."

"In no way, shape or form are we converting a private preschool into a public school," Patten said. "The conversion issue is a complete red herring."

Montessori education, which stresses multi-age classrooms, self-directed learning and self-discipline, would provide a positive learning environment for students who don't thrive in a more traditional educational setting, Patten said.

"Education isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition," she said. "This is a really different learning environment. We think the district can well afford it."

Patten said the school district has generated an "us versus them" mentality.

"I think what it comes down to is that we represent some competition to the school district," Patten said.

"I think they don't want to see children choose different methods."

There's nothing wrong with Montessori education, Simms said. Rather, the issue comes down to a single question, she said.

"Is a Montessori charter school the best use of taxpayer dollars for the public education of all students in the Steamboat Springs School District?" Simms asked. "The cost (to the district) is significant to the programs we can offer to the other kids."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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