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Carroll County parents campaign for charter school

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Hoping to open Carroll County's first Montessori public charter school by the fall of 2014, a group of parents is now working on an application to submit to the county by April 1.

Sustainable Futures hosted a public meeting at South Carroll High School on Feb. 25 to discuss its proposal for a tuition-free public school for county children in grades 1-5.

The group had submitted a letter of intent to Carroll County Public Schools in December and, while there is still a lot of work to do, members are excited to be moving forward.

Their quest was buoyed even further last week by the positive support they received at Monday's meeting.

"I'm feeling really good about it," said Nicole Musgrave, a board member of Sustainable Futures.

The proposed Carroll Montessori Public Charter School would be the first of its kind in the county school system.

Unlike other schools in the county, its curriculum would be taught based on the Montessori style —a multi-sensory approach that focuses on each individual, according to Melissa Barden, a board member.

"The only thing different [from current public schools] is the method of delivering information they [the students] are getting," Barden said.

"There are no rows of desks in a Montessori classroom," she said. "Students work individually, pair up with another child, or in groups. They are self directed and manage their own schedules with direction from their teacher."

It is a method that has been established for 100 years, according to Elizabeth Barrett, another board member.

"These children are really independent," said Barrett, who has two sons, ages 5 and 6. "They are challenged every day and the teacher is there to see that the resources are there to keep the child challenged."

Board members were quick to stress that they are all strong supporters of Carroll County Public Schools.

The Montessori charter school would be an asset to the system, they said, by offering families another option.

"None of us on the board have issues with Carroll County Public Schools at all," Barden said. "It's more choices."

Barrett said, "Innovation and variety is key to keeping the school system at the top of its game. I really believe in Montessori not just as an option for parents who can afford it, but an option for everybody."

As a public school, the Montessori school would be open to all students in the county.

Plans are for the school to offer only first and second grades in two combined classrooms when the school first opens, for a total of 50 students. Interested students would apply to the school and then be put in a lottery to be randomly selected until spaces are full, Musgrave said

While the Montessori-style does not include testing, the school would meet all state and county testing requirements, Barden said. As a county school, all health and safety regulations would have to be met, too.

Plans are for the school to be located in the Eldersburg/Sykesville area. A location cannot be selected until the application is accepted, Barrett said. While there are currently teachers in the school system who are also certified to teach Montessori, details on how the school would be staffed also need to be worked out.

Gregory Bricca, director of research and accountability for the school system, said the application would be reviewed after it is received and that issues such as transportation, food service, and staff would all be examined.

"The application is a substantial document," Bricca said. "It's a substantial amount of planning that needs to go into it."

With the school system currently facing a myriad of financial issues, Bricca admitted assuming the costs for a new school would not be easy.

"It would put an additional strain on us," Bricca said. "A lot needs to be worked out and looked at. There are a lot of unknowns."

Sustainable Futures is now asking for help in putting the application together. Anyone with financing, banking and real estate knowledge willing to dedicate some time, would be appreciated.

"What skills do people have that people can help us with," Musgrave said. "It's like running a small business, trying to start it."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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