Carroll Board of Ed denies charter school application

The Carroll County Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to reject an application from Sustainable Futures, Inc. to establish the county’s first charter school.

While board members voted to deny the application, they encouraged the group to revise their application and resubmit it for the charter school to open in the fall of 2015.

"I think you've got a very valid and viable proposal to make," board member Gary Bauer said. "Don't give up, please come back."

Superintendent Steve Guthrie had recommended denying the application, citing concerns with measuring student performance objectives, the failure to adequately outline a student records management plan, and the school's proposed budget.

He reiterated again that his recommendation was not a sign that Carroll County Public Schools is against opening a charter school.

"Nothing would please me more than to approve this," Guthrie said clarifying that the application was "almost there."

Nicole Musgrave-Burdette, chair of the Sustainable Futures Board of Directors, said she was not really surprised with the vote after hearing comments from school board members over the last two meetings.

Although the board of directors has yet to decide their next move, Musgrave-Burdette said the application would probably be resubmitted.

“We're not going to let a five minute vote stop us from what we believe in,” she said.

Sustainable Futures submitted its application to start a kindergarten through fifth grade Montessori-based public charter school to Carroll County Public Schools April 3.

This was Carroll County Public Schools' first attempt at evaluating a charter school application and the process had gone smoothly, according to Greg Bricca, Carroll County Public Schools Director of Research and Accountability.

A team of 17 central office staff members reviewed the application over a 30-day period before Guthrie made his recommendation.

If approved, Carroll Montessori Public Charter School would have opened in the fall of 2014 with a 25-student first-grade class and a 25-student second-grade class. The school would then expand each year by an additional 25-student classroom until it reaches the fifth grade.

The Montessori teaching philosophy includes students of three-year age groupings in the same classroom, giving older students the opportunity to mentor younger students. It also includes more hands-on activities where students are given the opportunity to work individually or in small groups at their own pace.

Although there are no formal tests or grades in a Montessori classroom, students are required to participate in standardized tests as mandated by state and federal law.

There are 52 charter schools in operation statewide, with the most located in Baltimore City. Charter schools are also located in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George's, and St. Mary's counties.

If approved, Carroll's Montessori charter school would have been the state's sixth Montessori-based public charter school, according to Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

There are already two in Baltimore City, two in Frederick County, and one in Montgomery County.

Planning for the Carroll Montessori Public Charter School began about two years ago after a group of parents came together to express how satisfied they were with their children's' early education from the Ava Wanas Montessori School in Sykesville.

"The Montessori preschool in Sykesville started it all," said Liz Barrett, a member of the Sustainable Futures Board of Directors.

She said the group is not upset with the school system, but believes parents want more options.

"There's got to be room for innovation and there's got to be room for improvement, for change," Barrett said. "Parents want options."

Musgrave-Burdette said the school has not yet chosen a location, although they have looked at sites in the Eldersburg and Sykesville area.

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