Montessori charter school eyes 2015-16 implementation

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— It has been nearly one full school year since the Steamboat Springs School District stopped offering a first- through fifth-grade Montessori program entirely, but a group of parents is leading a charge to reopen Montessori classrooms and expand the area’s educational opportunities.

The summer before the 2013-14 school year, the district closed its Montessori program in first- through third-grade classrooms, just a year after it canceled its fourth- and fifth-grade program.

The district’s longtime lead Montessori teacher left for another job at the start of the 2011-12 school year, and a steady and debilitating decline in enrollment followed.

But talks before the 2013-14 year about reviving the district’s Montessori program recently have turned into action. It’s been only a month, parent Kristen Rockford said, but the group is taking action toward a Montessori charter school, possibly as soon as the 2015-16 school year.

“We are definitely in the infancy of this effort,” Rockford said. “In fact, what we did initially was just got together and decided we need to start getting information out.”

The group has formed its own website with information regarding Montessori programs and debunking common myths about charter schools.

“A lot of people don’t realize that charter schools are tuition-free public schools,” Rockford said.

Most importantly, Rockford and fellow parent-group member Jennifer Zuccone met with district Superintendent Brad Meeks and district Curriculum Director Marty Lamansky to seek support going forward.

In summer 2013, Lamansky lamented that strict budgetary times contributed to the district’s decision to let the program go. Some, such as Steamboat Springs Montessori preschool and kindergarten Head of School Clare Berkey, were disappointed to see the program fizzle out under the district’s watch.

But Rockford and Zuccone said Meeks and Lamansky supported their effort to establish Steamboat’s first Montessori charter school.

“Kristen and I walked out of that meeting and looked at each other and thought, ‘That could have not gone any better,’” Zuccone said. “I feel really good about it. I feel very optimistic and very positive in what that looks like with them.”

The parents have sent out nearly 150 emails to community members, mostly former Montessori parents, explaining the charter school push. A www.change.org petition also is up, collecting signatures of support.

And Monday marks the group's first collaborative meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. North Routt Community Charter School Principal Brandon LaChance will speak about the ins and outs of what it means to hold a charter. Betsy Hoke, who started the Montessori School of Evergreen, also will be at the inaugural meeting.

Rockford said the following meeting would be held at a parent’s home, where a task force will be set up to act as a steering committee moving forward.

“I think that the difficulty in really getting it off the ground is it really requires work and commitment,” Zuccone said.

The parents said they no longer are eyeing established district classrooms to hold instruction for the charter school, like the previous first- through fifth-grade Montessori program, which took up two Strawberry Park Elementary School rooms.

District-owned property near Steamboat II is the goal. It’s a vast space, the parents said, that could host various outdoor education opportunities, a key component of a Montessori program.

In order to be a true Montessori program, Zuccone and Rockford said, everything from charter school administration down to the teaching staff would be Montessori certified. They also are seeking Montessori accreditation, something not required for an affiliated program.

The group is using resources from the Colorado League of Charter Schools to write the grant, a nonprofit organization that “pretty much holds your hand through the process,” Zuccone said.

At today’s meeting, the parents hope to utilize LaChance’s knowledge of how to run a charter school as the program gains early traction toward establishment. It’s early, they admit, but the level of interest is increasing to revive Montessori in Steamboat.

“A charter school would be such a wonderful asset to this community, to have that alternative education available,” Rockford said.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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