Board gives preliminary approval for Carroll's first charter school

A public charter school is well on its way to becoming a reality in Carroll County.

After having its first charter school application rejected by the Carroll County Board of Education last year, Sustainable Futures Inc. reworked the application and submitted it for consideration in April.


At its July 9 regular meeting, the Board of Education approved the application for the Carroll Montessori Public Charter School.

The approval came with conditions that must be met before the application can move forward, but a Sustainable Futures representative said she does not believe they will prevent the school's opening for the 2015-2016 school year.


"I think all the conditions are reasonable and at this point, it looks like we can meet the deadlines," said Nicole Musgrave, chairwoman of the Sustainable Futures board of directors.

In 2003, the Maryland Public Charter School Act passed. It invited "the creation of public charter schools to help introduce alternative means within the public school system to provide innovative learning opportunities and creative educational approaches to improve the education of all students," according to the Maryland State Department of Education website.

Maryland law defines a public charter school as nonsectarian, chosen by parents for their children, and open to all students on a space available basis, according to the website.

Public charter schools operate with the approval of local boards of education and are subject to federal, state and local laws.

Maryland will have 48 public charter schools operating in the 2014-2015 school year, 31 of them in Baltimore City, according to Carol Beck, director of the Office of School Innovations for the State Department of Education. Public charter schools will also operate in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Prince George's and St. Mary's counties.

Beck said that Baltimore County and Montgomery County each had one public charter school last year, neither of which will continue to operate in the coming school year.

The idea for the proposed Carroll County charter school was conceived three years ago, Musgrave said, when a group of parents with children at a Montessori preschool in Eldersburg wanted their children to continue with a similar education model into elementary school.

Musgrave said that she finds the Montessori approach appealing because it encourages hands-on learning, student-driven instruction and challenges students to be more independent.


The Montessori model also uses a mixed classroom style, so students in several grade levels all learn in one classroom.

Eager for opportunity

Musgrave said the Carroll Montessori Public Charter School will serve kindergarten through fifth grade and will be located in the Eldersburg area. Children from all over the county can attend, although parents will be responsible for transportation to and from the school. There will be no tuition and a lottery will be used if there are more applicants than space available.

Westminster resident Maria Quarles said that she wants to get involved with the Carroll Montessori Public Charter School now so that when her children, who are 3 years old and 18 months old, are old enough to start school, they can attend.

"I attended public school and my husband attended private school," said Quarles, who just relocated to Carroll County from Anne Arundel County. "This will be a happy medium between the two."

Quarles said that she believes the public charter school will offer an educational setting where parents are more involved, where teachers can tailor the curriculum to the students' needs and where instructors can use different teaching styles to engage students.


"I think this will be great for the county; and I'm excited, having just moved here, to have this option available for my kids," she said.

Musgrave said that wanting to start a charter school is not a reflection on Carroll County's existing schools, rather a desire for more choices.

"Carroll County has good public schools," Musgrave said. "Sustainable Futures was motivated by the idea of school choice. Not all students learn the same way."

Carroll County Public School Superintendent Steve Guthrie pointed out at the Board of Education meeting that one of the conditions Sustainable Futures must address in order to move forward is to present a budget that will show how the school will sustain itself.

Dona Foster, the supervisor of Research and Accountability for CCPS, said that the charter school will receive public school funds at the projected rate of $9,105 per student. That amount includes a 2 percent administrative fee, which CCPS will retain.

According to the charter school plan submitted to the Board of Education, Sustainable Futures intends to enroll 192 students in its first year and reach a total enrollment of 288 students in five years.


Musgrave said that Sustainable Futures has already started holding fundraisers and is in the process of writing and submitting grant applications.

Other conditions on the approval of the application include:

• finding a suitable facility for the school and creating a "break even" budget that shows how the school will sustain itself by Dec. 1;

• hiring a qualified principal by March 1;

• hiring a staff and recruiting a sufficient number of students by May 1.

Musgrave said that she is excited about the progress Sustainable Futures has made in getting a charter school off the ground but isn't sure if the community embraces the idea.


"We have a good working relationship with people in the public school system. I feel like they're getting as excited about it as we are," Musgrave said. "But I'm not sure what people in the community think about a charter school or understand what it is."

Sustainable Futures and CCPS staff will create a charter school contract, which is expected to be presented to the Board of Education for approval at the board's Aug. 13 meeting.

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