Alan Borsuk: Every student and family is involved in programs aimed at good behavior, emotional control, and engagement in school. A smaller number of students with more needs get more attention. And a few students need and get individualized help. Kim Burg, one of the counselors who works at the school, said the school is […]
Karen Rivedal: But Cheatham urged the board not to see it as an us-vs-them proposition, noting the charter school and its students would be fully part of the district if the contract was approved. The district also should “honor and value” grass-roots proposals that come from the community, she said, especially one like this promising […]
Amber Walker: In a 5-2 decision on Monday, the Madison School Board voted to postpone the charter approval of Isthmus Montessori Academy. The board wanted more clarity around the school’s proposed attendance area, financial and academic accountability standards at their three-year mark, and language in the proposal that asks for waivers that apply to early […]
Doug Erickson: The Madison School Board is poised to vote Monday on whether to create its first public Montessori charter school, a decision that appears to hinge on the level of risk board members are willing to accept. The district’s charter review committee says it cannot recommend approval of the proposal from Isthmus Montessori Academy […]
5.7MB PDF: We submit this proposal to open MMSD’s first AMI Montessori school. Isthmus Montessori Academy, Inc. was founded in the goal of providing expanded access to Montessori as a brain-based scientifically developed method of education. We are inspired by MMSD’s direction and leadership, and are excited and prepared to join the district in providing […]
Erin Richards: When Katy Van Schyndle toured Fernwood Montessori last winter as a potential school for her daughter, she was impressed by how many children prompted at random could clearly explain their work to a bunch of strangers. Van Schyndle thought her daughter, an independent learner at age 3, could thrive in that environment. But […]
Steve Denning: There was considerable interest in the Wall Street Journal article by Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries (Free Press, 2011) about the possibility of a “Montessori Mafia”, given that the Montessori approach has spawned a creative elite, including Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s […]
Seth Jovaag: Melissa Droessler tries not to flinch when she tells people her dream of opening a charter school in Madison. “Even the word ‘charter’ in Madison can be emotionally charged,” she says. But Droessler, director of Isthmus Montessori Academy, is steadfast in her belief that a century-old pedagogy created in the slums of Rome […]
Steve Denning: A colleague, Daniel Petter-Lipstein, wrote to us and asked the pertinent question: why there was no mention of progressive models of education like Montessori? He suggests that much of what is described takes place in my view in thousands of good Montessori classrooms every day, as he wrote in his marvelous article, “Superwoman […]
Hildegard Solzbacher was a charismatic speaker, a true believer in the child-centered Montessori way of teaching. She founded Milwaukee Montessori School and New World Montessori, and trained others in the Montessori method, in which children learn at their own rate.
Despite her inspiring lectures, there was a point where students became frustrated with her.
“What do you do about discipline?” they would ask. “How do you handle a misbehaving child?”
“She would say, ‘Well, that really never happened to me,'” said Priscilla Bovee, head of New World Montessori in River Hills.
Her students could see why that was the case
“She had a beautiful way with people,” Bovee said. “And children, of course, are just smaller people.”
Solzbacher, who introduced the Montessori way to Milwaukee and trained teachers worldwide, died Jan. 25 of natural causes at Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls. She was 83.
Solzbacher grew up in Bad Honnef, a small town in Germany, the youngest of 13 children.
The Montessori method of teaching relies heavily on natural materials. One of the first things people notice about our classrooms, for example, is the abundance of activities involving wood. And so it made sense that as we duplicated the Montessori experience in digital form, the materials presented looked the same way. On an iPhone or iPad, the experience we offered children was largely rooted in the real world.
The introduction of iOS7–a new operating system that removes ties to the physical world in many ways–has changed everything. It’s more transparent, noticeably lighter, and seemingly faster.
We desire the same traits in a digital Montessori education. And that’s led to a rethinking of the aesthetic that is so thoroughly dependent on woodgrain–and all its shadows and textures that are now relics of Apple’s previous operating system. The new version forced us to seriously consider how our apps would look and feel, and how children would engage with them. As we’ve changed to reflect this, the question becomes, will children still interact with the digital material as they do the physical one when it isn’t grounded in their real-world experience?
wenty years ago, Paula Ambos enrolled her daughter at MacDowell Montessori School after a friend raved about how well the style of education worked for her kid.
Ambos started helping in the classroom – common for Montessori parents because the “freedom with responsibility” philosophy of learning requires at least one classroom assistant – then pursued formal teacher training herself.
Today, she’s the primary teacher of a 3-, 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten classroom at MacDowell, which incorporated a high school this year and became one of several new or revamped public Montessori options that Milwaukee Public Schools is championing to parents all over the city.
The public Montessori-school community in Milwaukee is now one of the largest in the country – growing to eight schools under the MPS umbrella, and a ninth that operates as a City of Milwaukee-authorized charter school.
So what’s so cool about Montessori schools?
“I was a slow convert,” Meagan Holman answers. It took until she saw her 6-year-old son bloom in first grade at Fernwood Montessori School in Bay View for her to be convinced about the distinctive Montessori approach, built on a child’s choices to pursue learning in a classroom without conventional grades and textbooks.
“They get them where they need to be,” she said of Montessori programs, which, among other things, emphasize hands-on projects for learning and classrooms where students range across three ages (6- to 9-year-olds, for example), with students staying with the same teacher for three years.
Now, Holman, who represents the southeast side on the Milwaukee School Board, has become a key figure in a drive to increase Montessori offerings in the city – and, in her view, improve the prospects for Milwaukee Public Schools to rebound from the buffeting it has taken for years.
The prospects for a Montessori surge were underscored when a School Board committee voted Thursday to support opening a new program on the south side in September. Isn’t this MPS, where the wheels grind slowly? Not in this case.
The state board of education voted Thursday to approve charter schools in Wilmington and Dover, but a proposal to start a new Montessori school under the charter system failed to gain approval.
The board unanimously approved charters for:
- Academia Antonia Alonso, for students in kindergarten through fifth grade in Wilmington. The school would focus on Hispanic English-language learners. The founding board is a partnership between Innovative Schools, a Wilmington nonprofit that aids districts and charter schools, and the Latin American Community Center, a nonprofit in Wilmington.
- Early College High School at Delaware State University, a high school embedded in the DSU campus in Dover. The curriculum would focus on science, technology, engineering and math, and is based on an early-college high school model to serve first-generation college students. State Board President Teri Quinn Gray calling the charter proposal “one of the strongest I’ve seen in awhile.”
The First State Montessori Academy needed four votes for approval, but it received favorable votes from only three of the five board members present. Under the proposal, the school would have served kindergarten through sixth grade based on the Montessori education model. The school’s planners don’t yet have a location secured for the school, and they have said it may share a campus with a private Montessori school.
Related: Madison recently rejected a proposed IB Charter school. Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
Jay Matthews: The American Montessori Society, based in New York, reported 7 percent membership growth in just the past year, and many of the schools are getting ready to celebrate the centennial of the Montessori beachhead. Once considered a maverick experiment that appealed only to middle-class white families in the States, Montessori schools have become […]
Erin Richards: A study of Milwaukee schoolchildren published today in the journal Science underscores what proponents of Montessori education have believed for decades: that Montessori students might be better prepared academically and socially than students in traditional classrooms. Among the findings: 5-year-old Montessori students had better reading, math and social skills than 5-year-old non-Montessori children, […]
Neerav Kingsland: My formal education started at a Montessori pre-k. It’s a little difficult to use introspection to determine whether this was a waste of time and money, as I don’t remember much about pre-k. I do have a vague memory of being confused most of the time. I didn’t understand what I was supposed […]
Via a kind email: Dear Friends. Last night, we learned that our application to establish One City Senior Preschool as a public charter school serving children in 4 year-old and 5 year-old kindergarten was approved by the University of Wisconsin System. We are very excited! This action will enable us to offer a high quality, […]
Max Eden & Matthew Ladner: One year ago, President Trump nominated Betsy DeVos for secretary of education. Shortly thereafter, the technocratic faction of the education reform establishment joined with the teachers’ unions to declare war against her and against Michigan’s charter schools. The evidence, they said, is clear: Michigan’s charter schools are uniquely awful. But […]
Karen Rivedal: Independent charter schools are free to attend and open to all students, but Madison has never had any. Bennett’s office, opened in April 2016 within the UW System by state statute, has the ability to bypass local school boards and authorize charter schools in Madison and Milwaukee. Bennett said he liked the idea […]
Sarah Karp and Becky Vevea : Chicago Public Schools has lost 32,000 students over the last five years, nearly the same enrollment drop as in the 10-year period leading up to the closures of 50 elementary schools in 2013. Those missing students could fill 53 average-sized Chicago schools. This massive enrollment decline comes as a […]
One City Early Learning, via a kind Kaleem Caire email: A high quality preschool education, from birth to age 5, should be available and accessible to every child in the United States of America. Please join us on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 from 11:30am to 1:00pm for lunch and an important presentation and dialogue. We […]
Matt Barnum: The study comes with a few important caveats. The spike in test-score growth toward the end of the five-year grant coincided with the introduction of a new test aligned with the Common Core, the PARCC. It also coincided with an increase in students opting out of state tests, both in Newark and statewide. […]
Daniel Borenstein: In Alameda, an island community with a long history of strong labor influence, the city manager could lose her job because she resisted political pressure to hire a union leader as fire chief. The people who probably should be removed from City Hall are council members Malia Vella and Jim Oddie, who apparently […]
Chris Rickert:: It seemed appropriate to look at the Madison School District first, given that on Tuesday, two Madison School Board members, Anna Moffit and Nicki Vander Meulen, took to Facebook in support of Johnson’s Fitchburg grievance. Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this […]
Amber Walker Eighty-eight percent of MMSD fifth through 12th graders who are at-risk of not graduating are low-income students. The district report did not specify if the data includes students who have already withdrawn from school. Before the At-Risk plan was developed, the district would only send a letter home to guardians. Caroline Racine Gilles, […]
Star Tribune: Alternatives to traditional public schools — namely open enrollment and charter programs — have taken hold in Minnesota in a big way. They’re so popular that nearly 1 in 6 of the state’s 850,000-plus school-age children opt out of their neighborhood schools. According to a recent Star Tribune series and data analysis called […]
Matt Barnum: When charter school teachers push to unionize, charter leaders often fight back. That’s happened in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Unionizing, they argue, would limit the schools’ ability to innovate, ultimately hurting kids. But a new study of California schools finds that, far from harming student achievement, unionization of […]
T. William Fair: Once upon a time it may have been unheard of for the head of an urban league dedicated to the improvement of lives for African-American children to partner with a Republican to work on school reform. As part of one of his education reform efforts, Florida governor Jeb Bush convinced me to […]
“Bennett said he continues to work closely with the district, noting he recently met with district lawyer Dylan Pauly to work out an agreement for the internal sharing and public posting of any Madison charter school applications that are submitted. Proposals are to be posted on the district’s website within two weeks of the submission […]
Former Madison School Board candidate Ali Muldrow, speaking yesterday on WORT-FM’s A Public Affair (MP3 audio) – via a kind reader. Madison has long spent far more than most government funded school districts (now nearly $20,000 per student), yet we’ve long tolerated disastrous reading results. They are all rich white kids and they will do […]
Chris Rickert: Like the rest of the board, both also voted to approve the 304-page employee handbook that replaced union contracts beginning in summer 2016. District legal counsel Dylan Pauly pointed to two board policies that include provisions related to managing conflicts of interest among board members. One says board members should “avoid conflicts of […]
We hope that our commitments set forth here will inspire you to make a similar commitment to do the job you were each elected to do. We look forward to seeing you commit to a focus on ensuring that ALL Nashville children have the ability to attend great public schools. We look forward to the […]
Chris Rickert: I’d like to believe that the “us” in that statement refers not just to the adults who run and work in the schools, but the children who attend them. Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending more than most, now nearly $20,000 per student annually. A majority of the Madison School […]
Madison School Board President James Howard’s remarks prior to the recent Montessori “charter” school contract vote (which failed 3-4). Well worth watching. Madison lacks K-12 governance diversity. A majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Preporatory Academy IB Charter School. Madison spends more than most, now nearly $20,000 per student, while tolerating long […]
Chris Rickert: I’m guessing there are a lot of parents of black students in Madison who would be happy to have greater access to a Madison public school that works well for their children, rather than wait for the “best” to maybe come along some day. Instead, while Madison has made closing the racial achievement […]
Karen Rivedal The Madison School Board’s narrow rejection of a proposed five-year contract for a public Montessori charter school on Monday isn’t deterring supporters and may not represent the end of the process around the proposal. Ali Muldrow, described in the proposed contract as one of the school’s seven founders, said Tuesday she isn’t giving […]
Madison Teacher and Parent Jen Greenwald: I have worked as a teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School District since 1997. I have raised my two biracial daughters in and out of Madison public schools. And, like many of the people who support Isthmus Montessori, I would like to see radical change in our district. A […]
Logan Wroge: The Madison School Board delayed a decision Monday on whether to turn a private Montessori school on the North Side into a public charter school. Over concerns on a handful of issues, the board voted to refer a five-year contract to bring the tuition-based, private Isthmus Montessori Academy (IMA) into the school district […]
Marj Passman (Former Madison School Board Member): It is applaudable for a private school to want to serve all students, regardless of their financial situation. Unfortunately, the contract is not in line with this good intention and fails to ensure the school reflects the diverse demographics of surrounding neighborhoods, or even the district as a […]
Doug Erickson: Board member Mary Burke said it was critically important to her that the student body of the new charter school reflect the demographics of the overall district in terms of racial diversity and the percentages of students with special needs. The school’s founders and its supporters convinced her through their testimonials and their […]
Doug Erickson: If successful in its bid, the academy would become what’s called an “instrumentality” of the district. It would retain considerable autonomy but receive state education funding and be tuition-free just like any public school. As an instrumentality charter, the School Board would have ultimate governance responsibility and employ the school staff. The academy’s […]
Sasha Abramsky: “Security was the number-one factor for me in choosing a school,” explained one of the mothers I met late last winter at a Montessori preschool in an affluent suburb of Salt Lake City. A quality-control expert at a dietary-supplement company, the woman said she vividly remembers the jolt of horror she felt when […]
Annysa Johnson: As submarines go, the USS Macaroni doesn’t look like much: a series of plastic pipes and rubbery mesh, propelled by two small thrusters and a hand-held circuit board. But the underwater robot represents months of work by three tech-minded middle-schoolers from Milwaukee Montessori School. The trio bested more than 50 middle-school teams in […]
Dr Hurd: Schools have long since lost sight of what education actually is. Government schools are particularly guilty. Public schools are government schools. If we called them what they are — government schools — many of us might not be so prone to defend them. By their very definition, the purpose of nationalized, federally subsidized […]
The Economist: Complicating the politics, school buses have their roots in a very different philosophy. More than just machines for moving children around, they have often been tools for social engineering. Busing took off in the 1930s, as progressive education officials sought to close one-room rural schoolhouses and move kids to “modern” township schools. Visitors […]
Alan Borsuk: Fatigue, indifference, apathy, resignation — they’re in the mix. There are supporters and loyalists, but, frankly, a lot of them are employees of the system. More important, so much of the power to make hefty decisions shaping MPS — and school districts in general — really lies in Madison and (to a declining […]
Mary Dooe & Genevieve Wilson: How do we reinvent American education? An Unconventional Education Toolbox You can start at the very beginning, with preschoolers and kindergarteners. Dr. Roberta Ness, author of “Genius Unmasked” and Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Texas, explains why Maria Montessori’s method for teaching was so […]
We arrived at The Grove School in Redlands, California, just before their winter break, at about noon and right in time for lunch.
The Grove School is a public charter school with about 200 students in grades 7 through 12. It follows the Montessori system, and it adjoins a private Montessori elementary school. The complex has citrus groves on one side and pastures, livestock enclosures, farm buildings, and vegetable gardens on the other. The effect is of a rural-area school that happens to be on the edge of a city.
The middle school on the campus is called The Farm, and students there grow some of the produce for the school lunches, including the one we ate. High schoolers do rotations in the kitchen in preparing, cooking, and cleaning up the meal. On the day we visited the menu was called “Hawaiian,” and included chicken, rice, pasta (with some carrots, maybe from the farm) and a chunk of pineapple. It was much better than the school lunches I remember.
Grove is a fairly new school in Redlands, graduating its first class in 2002. When my husband, Jim, grew up in the town, every student from every corner of the town went to its one high school, Redlands High. As the area grew, the RHS enrollment became unmanageably large. When Jim graduated in the late 1960s, he had 800+ classmates; a generation later, the town’s population had doubled, from around 35,000 to nearly 70,000, and the school was swollen too. Now two more 4-year public high schools have opened: Redlands East Valley in 1997, with an enrollment of about 2300 in grades 9 – 12, and Citrus Valley High School, which graduated its first class in 2012. Redlands High itself now has about 2300 students in grades 9 – 12.
These three expert pedagogical experimenters,
Maria Montessori, Italian school teacher and founder of the teaching method by the same name,
Sugata Mitra, creator of the esteemed “Hole in the Wall” experiment and winner of the 2013 Ted Prize, and
Paul Anderson, a high school biology teacher, 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year, and creator of over 300 biology videos on Youtube,
all speak of a similar insight about learning:
The need for exploratory learning environments, where students can tinker, investigate and discover central concepts for themselves.
Maria Montessori, spoke of the “Prepared Environment” that allows a child to discover concepts like reading, writing, colors and numbers. Her Sandpaper Letters are a wonderful example: each letter is cut from sandpaper and pasted on a smooth card. The tactile difference between the letter and the surrounding card acts as a natural writing guide for a kid. Kids are able to ‘discover’ the motion of writing on their own just by tracing the sandpapered letter with their finger.
Sugata Mitra’s Hole-in-the-wall is another example. Mitra setup computers in public places in impoverished neighborhoods in India and South Africa. Within weeks, children who had never touched a computer before were able to learn basic computer skills just by exploring the machine amongst themselves. No formal lessons required. Further, discovery and exploration is fun, so kids were self-motivated and dedicated to learning.
Lauren McAlee When parents imagine the ideal school for their kids, many probably envision a place where children can not only master basic skills and content, but also be valued as individuals, encouraged to delve into interesting topics, and safe to take healthy risks. Many schools offer this kind of rich education. Unfortunately, they disproportionately […]
My wife grew up on the northwest side of Milwaukee and went to her neighborhood grade school, junior high and high school.
The grade school is now a Montessori school. The junior high is a charter school serving almost 1,000 Hmong children. The high school is a “gifted and talented” sixth through 12th grade program. There’s a lot of good going on in those buildings, but none is a neighborhood school in the way the term is usually used.
The neighborhood school idea has just about died in Milwaukee. I believe the notion of the neighborhood school may be weaker in Milwaukee than anywhere else in the country. I tried unsuccessfully a few years ago to come up with data to prove that. But I do know that in recent years, only about a third of kindergarten through eighth grade students in Milwaukee Public Schools went to their “attendance area” school. In some cases, the children living in a specific attendance area were enrolled in more than 75 schools across the city.
The figures may be a bit more neighborhood-oriented now. MPS officials couldn’t come up with current numbers late last week, but the system has tried to rein in busing options (and costs). Nonetheless, there are few schools of any kind in Milwaukee that are genuine neighborhood schools.
Is it the best of times or the worst of times for charter schools in Marin?
Well, it certainly hasn’t been the best of times in the Lagunitas School District for the past few months. In fact, it seemed to be “deja vu all over again.” Forty years ago a group of parents and educators fought hard to bring the child-centric Open Classroom emphasizing individual learning styles to the small district–a program that continues to flourish.
In addition to the Open Classroom and a Montessori program, the district offers the Lagunitas Waldorf Inspired Program (LWIP), based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. It is one of very few public school Waldorf programs in the state or country. (The Novato Charter School is also a Waldorf-inspired model.)
The Indianapolis Public Schools district is broken.
I don’t say this because I’m anti-public education. I don’t say this to score political points. I don’t say this to hurt anyone’s feelings or to be disrespectful. I say this because it’s true.
I am a strong supporter of public education. I served on the IPS School Board from 1998 to 2010. My father is a graduate of Arsenal Technical High School. All three of my step-brothers graduated from Tech, my sister and I graduated from Broad Ripple, and my own children attended school in IPS — at Montessori School 91, Shortridge Middle School and Broad Ripple High School, where my youngest child graduated in 2007. My niece and nephew now attend Center For Inquiry School 2.
Chicago Public School officials are making big changes during their first year in office, but there’s a group of people feeling shut out once again — parents.
Despite a well-publicized commitment to involve parents in the city’s public education system, some of them are not happy with how Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his school team are following through. And some say they are still not familiar with the new Office of Community and Family Engagement.
“I’ve heard of the new department, but I quite honestly have no idea what they do,” said Jonathan Goldman, a parent and Local School Council member at Drummond Montessori School, a sought-after magnet program.
The district has long been accused of excluding parents from its decision-making process. “To be fair, C.P.S. has never, under any recent administration, been a bastion of parent engagement,” Goldman said.
To address that reputation, Jean-Claude Brizard, C.P.S. chief executive, created the office last July and said it would focus solely on parents and school communities. He said the new office would concentrate the responsibilities of several former departments — the Office of Local School Council relations, the Office of External Affairs and other now-defunct departments — into one unit that would report directly to him.
Lisa Pieper stood Monday night in her daughter’s fifth-grade classroom at Fernwood Montessori School and concluded that, set up for 30 students, it had no room to spare. She tried to picture what would happen if 36 to 38 students were assigned to the class, because that’s what parents have been told might happen next year.
“There is just no room,” she told members of the Milwaukee School Board the next night at a hearing on what is looming for the 2012-’13 school year in Milwaukee Public Schools.
“My daughter is complaining about not enough time with the teacher and too much noise,” Pieper said. And that’s with 30 kids in the room.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Pieper added, “she loves her school. This is her eighth year there. But even she can’t see how she will continue to grow and learn in this environment.”
So, all you who make decisions that shape life in Milwaukee schools, are you as smart as a fifth-grader? Can you see how students will grow and learn in the circumstances many may face by next fall? Or that many face even now?
Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, and national expert on why schools in Finland are so successful, visited Anchorage and Bethel area schools last month, ate the lunches and sat in on classes.
Some things impressed him, and others illustrated problems that schools face across the U.S., he said.
Abrams was here to participate in a conference on how to improve Anchorage schools that was sponsored by Mayor Dan Sullivan.
Before and after the November conference, Abrams went to King Career Center and William Tyson Elementary in Anchorage for half-day each, and spent full days at Denali Montessori, Begich Middle and East High in Anchorage. He also observed classes at a school-within-a-school run by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council at Bartlett High.
Paula Prosper worried that her son was not ready for the differences between his private Montessori school and the public Fairfax County seventh grade she planned to transfer him to next year.
Prosper, a teacher, asked if he and she could sit for a few hours at Longfellow Middle School “to see what happens in classes and to get a feel for the school in general.” The answer was no, with explanations that made little sense.
Prosper said Longfellow’s director of student services, Gail Bigio, told her “it had to do with privacy issues for the teachers — the public employees whose salaries are paid by my tax dollars. Then she brought up immunization and likened it to the students attending the school who wish to have a visiting cousin shadow them.” Longfellow Principal Carole Kihm told me Bigio did not mention teacher privacy.
Charter schools have been a welcome addition to Wisconsin’s educational environment. For supporters of education reform, charter schools are a win-win: They are free to adopt curricula that differ from often-rigid public school methods, yet they remain accountable to taxpayers because they answer to local school boards. Examples include Chippewa Valley Montessori and McKinley charter schools in the Eau Claire district and Wildlands School, a collaboration between the Augusta school district and Beaver Creek Reserve.
Institutions like these offer options within public education for students who might not reach their full potentials, or even learn effectively, in traditional settings. Nonetheless, the state Legislature should be cautious as it considers opening the door to so-called independent charter schools. Unlike traditional charter schools, which maintain contracts with local school districts, independent charter schools are answerable instead to outsiders – in the case of pending legislation, a yet-to-be-created statewide board. Currently, such independent charter schools are allowed only in Milwaukee and Racine; under the bill, they could operate in any district with more than 2,000 students – including Eau Claire.
Last week, the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee passed the bill. Next it will go to the full Legislature.
On a cold, wet Friday morning, only a third of the children turn up for the 45-minute class in Shanghai’s Putuo district.
It’s not as if the children can get there themselves. Junjun, the eldest, is just 21 months old. Nini, the youngest, is 19 months old.
Their young teacher begins the class by leading the children and various accompanying grandparents on a walk around the sides of a square painted on the ground.
The early education centre, which says its tuition is based on the theories of famed Italian educator Maria Montessori [Blekko], says the exercise helps calm the children and concentrate their minds for learning.
I admire the erudite and public-spirited members of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Their superintendent, Jerry D. Weast, is one of the best in the business, a national leader with a smart staff.
So why are they so frightened of two little charter schools?
The Maryland State Department of Education shares my puzzlement. It looked carefully at the two most recent Montgomery charter applicants, Global Garden Public Charter School and Crossway Montessori Charter School, and promised them a $550,000 grant each once they got their charter approved. The charter groups had fresh ideas, energetic supporters and experienced educators, including two members of the Global Garden board who worked in Montgomery schools.
That was not enough to quell the fears of Weast’s staff and an assortment of internal and external advisers. Weast’s nine-page summary of their worries reads like a neurotic mother’s letter to her son at summer camp, bemoaning all the terrible things that might happen to him.
APPENDIX MMM-7-21 January 31, 2011
Urban League of Greater Madison
On December 6, 2010, the Urban League of Greater Madison presented an initial proposal for the establishment of Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men (a non-instrumentality all-boys secondary charter school) to the Planning and Development Committee of the MMSD Board of Education. During the discussion that followed, Board members agreed to submit follow-up questions to the Urban Leagne, to which the Urban Leagne would respond before the next meeting of the Planning and Development Committee. Questions were submitted by Ed Hughes and Lucy Mathiak. Furthermore, Arlene Silveira submitted questions presented to her by several connnunity members. Below each numbered Board member question, you will find the ULGM response.
1. Ed Hughes: Do you have a response to the suggestion that your proposal may violate Wis. Stat. sec. 118.40(4)(c) other than that you also intend sometime in the future to develop and operate a school for girls? If so, what is the response?
ULGM: Please refer to our letter to MMSD Board of Education members that responded to the ACLU’s opposition to Madison Prep. The answer to your question is contained in that letter. We have attached the letter to this document for your review.
2. Ed Hughes: To the extent the information is available to you, please list the 37 or so non instrumentality charter schools currently operating in Wisconsin.
ULGM: The following list of non-instrumentality charter schools currently operating in Wisconsin was compiled from the 20 I 0-20 II Charter Schools Yearbook published by the Department of Public Instruction. You can find the complete Yearbook online at: http://dpi.wi.gov/sms/pdf/2010.llyearbook.pdf
1. Barron, North Star Academy
2. Cambridge, JEDI Virtual High School
3. City of Milwaukee, Central City Cyberschool
4. City of Milwaukee, Darrell Lynn Hines (DLH) Academy
5. City of Milwaukee, Downtown Montessori Academy
6. City of Milwaukee, King’s Academy
7. City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Academy of Science
8. Grantsburg, Insight School of Wisconsin
9. Hayward, Hayward Center for Individualized Learning
10. Hayward, Waadookodaading Charter School
11. McFarland, Wisconsin Virtual Academy
12. Milwaukee, Carmen High School of Science and Technology
13. Milwaukee, Highland Community School
14. Milwaukee, Hmong American Peace Academy (HAPA)
15. Milwaukee, International Peace Academy
16. Milwaukee, La Causa Charter School
17. Milwaukee, Milwaukee Community Cyber (MC2) High School
18. Milwaukee, Next Door Charter School
19. Milwaukee, Wings Academy
20. Milwaukee, Wisconsin Career Academy
21. Nekoosa, Niikuusra Community School
22. New Lisbon, Juneau County Charter School
23. New Richmond, NR4Kids Charter School
24. Sheboygan, Lake Country Academy
25. UW-Milwaukee, Bruce Guadalupe Community School
26. UW-Milwaukee, Business & Economics Academy of Milwaukee (BEAM)
27. UW-Milwaukee, Capitol West Academy
28. UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee College Preparatory School
29. UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Renaissance Academy
30. UW-Milwaukee, School for Early Development & Achievement (SEDA)
31. UW-Milwaukee, Seeds of Health Elementary School
32. UW-Milwaukee, Tenor High School
33. UW-Milwaukee, Urban Day Charter School, Inc
34. UW-Milwaukee, Veritas High School
35. UW-Milwaukee, Woodlands School
36. UW -Milwaukee, YMCA Young Leaders Academy
37. UW-Parkside, 21st Century Preparatory School
38. Weyauwega-Fremont, Waupaca County Charter School
3. Ed Hughes: Do you have copies of any of the contracts Wisconsin non-instrumentality charter schools have entered into with their school districts? If so, please list the contracts and provide a copy of at least one of them.
ULGM: See attached contracts for Lake Country Academy in Sheboygan and the Wisconsin Virtual Academy in McFarland, which are both non-instrumentality charter schools.
4. Ed Hughes: To the extent the information is available to you, please list the amount ofper.student payment each non-instrumentality charter school in Wisconsin is contractually entitled to receive from its sponsoring school district.
ULGM: We have requested information from the DPI on the current per-student payments to each non-instrumentality charter school in Wisconsin, but we understand that DPI does not now have the information consolidated in one database. We expect that the per-student payment information will be available from DPI by January 17, and we will submit that information to the board and administration as soon as it becomes available from the DPI. The per-pupil payment to each district.authorized charter school in Wisconsin, including instrumentality and non-instrumentality charter schools, is determined through negotiations and mutual agreement between the school district, as the charter school authorizer, and the charter school developer/operator.
5. Ed Hughes: Please identify the minimum per-student payment from the school district that would be required for Madison Prep to be financially feasible from your perspective. If you don’t have a specific figure, provide your best estimate of the range in which that figure is likely to fall.
ULGM: The MMSD Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent-Business in agreement with us that more time is needed to present a projected minimum payment from the school district. DPI’s School Finance Data Warehouse indicates that MMSD reported $14,432 in revenue per student and spent $13,881 per student iu 2008-09. We are certain that we will not request more per student than what MMSD spends annually.
6. Lucy Mathiak: Do you know what Madison Prep will cost the district? And do you know where the money will come from?
ULGM: We have an idea ofwhat our school will cost but as stated in the answer to question number 5, we are working through several costs and line items with MMSD’s Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent-Business. In Wisconsin, public charter schools are funded primarily by school districts or the state legislature (non-school district authorized schools). Generally, private funding is limited to 5% of costs during the budgeting process. However we will raise significantly more in private funding during the pre-implementation and implementation years of the school than we will in out years.
7. Lucy Mathiak: How the financial commitment asked of the district compares to the financial commitment to its existing schools?
ULGM: Assuming you mean existing traditional public schools, we will require more information from MMSD’s administration to make this comparison. Given that Madison Prep will be a new school and a non-instrumentality, there will be costs that Madison Prep has that the school system does not, and vice versa. However, we are firmly committed to ensuring our school is operated within the annual per pupil cost MMSD now spends to educate students in middle and high schools.
8. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: First of all, has the funding that is indicated as part of the proposal actually been acquired or promised? The proposal indicates $100,000/ year from the Madison Community Foundation, but I can’t find any information from MCF itself about funding Madison Prep. All I can see is that they donated to the Urban League’s capital and Workforce campaigns. Will you check into this? Also, the proposal indicates $250,000/ year for 3 years from Partners for Developing Futures. Last year, despite having received 25 applications for funding from “education entrepreneurs,” this organization did not fund any of them due to the quality of the applications. How is the Madison Prep planning team able to claim this as a source of funding? Have promises been made?
ULGM: The Madison Community Foundation and Partners for Developing Futures were listed as potential revenue sources; these dollars were not committed. Our business plan followed the same approach as most business plans for start-up initiatives: listing prospective revenue sources. However, we do intend to pursue funding through these and other sources. Our private fundraising goals and needs in our five-year budget plan are reasonable.
9. Lucy Mathiak: What additional resources are needed to make the Madison Prep model work?
ULGM: Our school is designed as a demonstration school to be replicable, in whole or in part, by MMSD and other school systems. Therefore, we will not request more than the district’s own annual costs per pupil at the middle and high school levels.
10. Lucy Mathiak: What resources are in hand and what resources will you need to raise?
ULGM: We presently have $50,000 to support the planning of the school, with the offer of additional support. However, we will secure additional private and public funding once the Board of Education formally approves the DPI planning grant application/detailed proposal for Madison Prep.
11. Lucy Mathiak: Ifthere is a proposed endowment, what is the amount of the endowment in hand, the estimated annual rate of return, and the estimated income available for use?
ULGM: New charter schools generally do not budget for endowment in their first few years of operation. We intend to build an endowment at some point and have line items for this in Madison Prep’s budget, but these issues will be decided by the Board ofDirectors ofthe school, for which we will not begin recruiting until the Board of Education approves our DPI plauning grant application/detailed proposal.
12. Ed Hughes: Which parts of your proposal do you require non-instrumentality status to implement?
ULGM: Non-instrumentality status will be vital to Madison Prep’s ability to offer an extended school day, extended school year, as well as the expectations we have of teachers to serve as mentors and coaches to students. The collective bargaining contract between the Board of Education and Madison Teachers, Inc. would not allow for this added instructional time. Yet this added instructional time will be necessary in order for students to meet Madison Prep’s ambitious achievement goals. In addition, our professional development program will also require more hours of training. We also intend to implement other special activities for students and faculty that would not be allowed under MMSD and MTI’s collective bargaining agreement.
13. Ed Hughes: What will be the school’s admission policy? Please describe any preferences that the admission policy will include. To what extent will students who live outside ofthe Madison school district be considered for admission?
ULGM: Madison Prep will comply with all federal and state regulations relating to charter school admissions. In its inaugural school year (20 12-20 13), Madison Prep will be open to any 61h and 7’h grade male student residing within the boundaries of MMSD.
All interested families will complete an Enrollment Form at the Urban League’s offices, online, during community meetings and outreach activities, through local partners, or during a visit to the school (after it opens). If Madison Prep receives less than 45 enrollment forms for either grade (6 and 7) in the tirst year, all students’ who applied will be admitted. If the school receives more than 45 enrollment forms for either grade level in the first year, or enrollment forms exceed the seats available in subsequent years, Madison Prep will hold a public random lottery at a location that provides enough space for applicant students and families. The lottery will be held in accordance with DPI guidelines for random lotteries. If Madison Prep does not fill all available seats, it will continue its grassroots recruitment efforts until it reaches its enrollment goal.
14. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: We know that Madison Prep won’t accept girls. Will it except boys with Autism or Aspergers? If a boy has a learning disability, will he be allowed to attend? What ifthis learning disability makes it not possible for him to perform above grade level on a standardized test? Will he be allowed in? And can they kick him out if his test scores aren’t advanced/proficient?
ULGM: Please see our answer to question #13. To be clear, Madison Prep will accept students with special learning needs, including students who speak English as a second language. As always, IEP teams will determine on a case-by-case basis if Madison Prep is an appropriate placement for special education students. No Madison Prep student will ever be expelled for academic performance.
15. Ed Hughes: An attraction ofthe proposed school is that it could provide the kind ofiutense academic and other sorts of support that could change the trajectories of its students from failure to success. How will you ensure that your school serves primarily students who require the sort of approach the school will offer in order to be successful?
ULGM: Please see our answer to question #13 and question #16 below. We will go to great lengths to inform parents about Madison Prep as an option for their child, and to recruit students and families to our school. We will over-market our efforts in low-income communities and through media, sports clubs, community centers, churches, employers, and other vehicles that reach these students and their parents. We are also exploring the legality of our ability to set an income goal or threshold for student admissions. Nonetheless, we believe that any young man, regardless of their family background, would be well served by Madison Prep.
16. Ed Hughes: To the extent yon know them, describe what the school’s stndent recruitment and marketing strategies will be.
ULGM: Madison Prep’s marketing plan will support three priorities and goals:
1. Enrollment: Recruiting, retaining, and expanding student enrollment annually -share Madison Prep with as many parents and students as possible and establish a wait-list of at least 20 students at each grade level by June I each year (with the exception of year one).
2. Staffing: Recruiting and retaining a talented, effective, and committed faculty and staff -field qualified applicants for each position in a timeframe that enables us to hire by June 30 each year.
3. Public Image and Support: Building, maintaining, and solidifying a base of support among local leaders, financial contributors, key partners, the media, and the general public.
To ensure the public is well acquainted with the school, Madison Prep, with the support of the Urban League of Greater Madison, will make use of a variety of marketing strategies to accomplish its enrollment, staffing, fundraising, and publicity goals. Each strategy will be phased in, from pre.launch of the school through the first three years of operation. These marketing strategies are less expensive and more sustainable with the budget of a new charter school than television, radio, and popular print advertisements. They also deliver a great return on investment if executed effectively. Each strategy will enable Madison Prep, with its limited staff, to promote itself to the general public and hard-to-reach communities, build relationships, sustain communications and achieve its goals.
A. Image Management: Madison Prep’s logo and images of young men projecting the Madison Prep brand will be featured on the school’.s website, in informational and print materials, and on inexpensive paraphernalia (lapel pins, emblems, ink pens, etc). Students will be required to wear uniforms that include a red or black blazer featuring the Madison Prep emblem, a sweater, a red or black tie, white shirt, black or khaki pants, and black or brown dress shoes. They will also have a gym uniform and athletic team wear that features the Madison Prep emblem. Additionally, Madison Prep will ensure that its school grounds, educational facility, and learning spaces are clean, orderly and well-maintained at all times, and that these physical spaces reflect positive images of Madison Prep students, positive adult males, community leaders, families, and supporters. Madison Prep’s Core Values will be visible through the school as well, and its students, faculty, staff, and Board of Directors will reflect an image in school and in public that is consistent with the school’s Core Values and Leadership Dimensions.
B. Grassroots Engagement: Madison Prep’s founders, Board members, volunteers, and its key staff (once hired) will go door-to-door in target neighborhoods, and other areas within MMSD boundaries where prospective candidates can be found, to build relationships with young men, families, and local community resource persons and advocates to recruit young men to attend Madison Prep. Recruiters will be dressed in the Madison Prep uniform (either a polo shirt, sweater or suit jacket/tie, each showing the Madison emblem, and dress slacks or skirt) and will visit homes in two person teams.
Madison Prep will also partner with City Council members, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and local libraries to host community meetings year-round to promote the school in target neighborhoods and military bases. It will also promote the school to citizens in high traffic residential areas of the city, including metro stops, restaurants, community centers, community health agencies, and at public events. Madison Prep will engage the religious community as well, promoting the school to church leaders and requesting to speak before their congregations or have the church publicize the school during their announcements on Sundays and ministry activities during the week. Area businesses, hospitals, government agencies, foster care agencies, and mentorship programs will be asked to make information available to their patrons, clients, and families. Madison Prep will also seek to form partnerships with the Police Department and Court System to ensure judges, attorneys, neighborhood police officers, and family advocates know about the school and can make referrals of young men they believe will benefit from joining Madison Prep’s school community.
C. Online Presence & Partnerships: Madison Prep will launch a website and update its current Facebook and Twitter pages prior ·to the school opening to expand its public presence. The Facebook page for Madison Prep presently has more than 100 members, has been operational for less than 2 months, and has not yet been widely marketed. The page is used to raise awareness, expand support, communicate progress, announce activities and events, and promote small-donor fundraising campaigns. The website will be used to recruit students, staff, and eventually serve as an entry-point to a member only section on the Internet for faculty, students, and parents. Madison Prep will also seek to establish strategic alliance partnerships with service associations (100 Black Men, Sororities and Fraternities, Civic Clubs or Organizations, etc.), enlisting their participation in the school’s annual events. In addition, Madison Prep will establish partnerships with other public and private schools in the Madison area to recruit students, particularly elementary schools.
D. Viral Marketing: Madison Prep will use email announcements and social networking sites to share its mission, activities, employment opportunities, and successes with its base of supporters and will inspire and encourage them to share the information with their friends, colleagues, parents and young men they know who might be interested in the school. Madison Prep will add to its base of supporters through its other marketing strategies, collecting names and contact information when and where appropriate.
E. Buzz Marketing: Madison Prep will use subtle forms of marketing to recruit students and faculty, increase its donor and support base, and develop a positive public image. The school will maintain an influential board of directors and advisors, will engage notable people and organizations in the school, and will publicize these assets to the general public. The school will also prepare key messages and strategically involve its students, staff, and parents in key events and activities to market its brand -high achieving, thoughtful, forward thinking, confident and empowered young men who are being groomed for leadership and success by equally talented, passionate and committed adults. The messages, images, and quality of interactions that the broader community has with members of the greater Madison community will create a positive buzz about the school, its impact, and the success of its students.
F. School Visits & Activity Participation: Each year, from the week after Thanksgiving through the end of the school year, Madison Prep will invite prospective students and parents, funders, and members of the community to visit the school. A visit program and weekly schedule will be established to ensure that the school day and learning is not interrupted by visitors. Madison Prep will also establish an open visit policy for parents, and will create opportunities for them to leverage their ongoing involvement with the school and their young men. Through nurturing positive relationships with parents, and establishing an enviromnent where they are wanted and respected, Madison Prep will create spokespersons in the community who help grow its student body and community support. Finally, Madison Prep will host an annual community event that engages its school community with the greater Madison community in a day of fun, competitive events for families, and will serve as a resource to parents whose children do not attend Madison Prep by inviting them to participate in its Destination Planning workshops.
G. Popular Media: Madison Prep will allocate resources to market itself on Urban and News Radio during the peak student recruitment season in two phases. Phase I will take place in November 2011 and Phase 2 advertising will take place between Jannary and May 2012. To defray costs, Madison Prep will enlist the support of local and national celebrities for feature interviews, spotlights, and PSAs with Madison Prep’s Leadership to promote the school.
17. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: It looks like the Charter school is aiming for 50% of its population to be low-income. The middle school my children will go to, Sherman, is 71% low income. Blackhawk is at 62%. Wright is 83%. Sennett is 65%. Cherokee is at 63%. Toki is at 51%. Can we, in good conscious, start a new school-designed to help low income students -that has a lower percentage oflow-income students than six of our existing middle schools?
ULGM: The Urban League has set the 50% low-income target as a floor, not as a ceiling. In fact, we expect that more than 50% of Madison Prep students will qualifY for free or reduced lunch.
Furthermore, we have chosen to use the 50% figure to allow us to be conservative in our budgeting process. No matter what the level of low income students at Madison Prep -50% or higher-the student achievement goals and overall program quality will remain unchanged.
18. Ed Hughes: Have you considered limiting admission to students who have scored minimal or basic on their WKCE tests?
ULGM: No. Madison Prep will be open to any male student who wishes to attend, regardless of past academic performance.
19. Ed Hughes: Some have suggested that Madison Prep could skim offthe most academically.motivated African-American students from the District’s middle and high schools, leaving fewer role models and academic peers for the African-American boys who remain in our existing schools. What is your response to that concern?
ULGM: The notion that charter schools skim off the most motivated students is a common misconception. First, this argument is not logical. Parents/caregivers ofchildren who are academically motivated and doing well in traditional public schools have little incentive to change their students’ educational environment. Those kids will likely stay put. When a parent, teacher, social worker, or school counselor recognizes that a child isn’t doing well in the traditional school and seeks an alternative, the charter school that is sought as an alternative does not in this process gain some advantage. In fact, research suggests the opposite. A 2009 study by researchers at Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin, and Mathematic Policy Research examined charter schools from across the country to test the “skimming” theory. The researchers found no evidence of skimming. In fact, they found students who go to charter schools typically have LOWER test scores than their counterparts in traditional public schools. (Read the full paper at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/schoolchoice/conference/papers/Zimmer_COMPLETE.pdf)
20. Ed Hughes: Have you extended preliminary or informal offers of employment at Madison Prep to anyone? If so, identify to whom the preliminary or informal offers were made and for which positions.
21. Ed Hughes: What will he your strategy for recruiting teachers? What qualifications will you establish for teachers? Please describe the general range of salary and benefits you expect to offer to teachers.
ULGM: Teacher Recruitment -The overarching goal of teacher recruitment will be to hire a highly qualified, passionate, hard-working, diverse staff. The recruitment effort will include casting a wide net that allows Madison Prep to draw from the pool oflocal teachers as well as teachers statewide and nationwide who will embrace the opportunity to help build a school from the ground up. We will recruit though typical both typical means (postings on our website, WECAN, charter school association job pages) as well as through recruitment fairs outside of the state. Our hiring process will take place in early and mid spring rather than late spring and summer so that we may have a competitive edge in recruiting the teachers that are the best fit for Madison Prep. While the Head of School will be responsible for the hiring of teachers, he/she will engage a committee of teachers, community members, parents, and students in the process ofselecting teachers and other staff. In addition to a thorough interview, teacher candidates will be required to teach a sample lesson to a group of students, as well as other interview committee members. Teacher Qualifications-All teachers at Madison Prep will be licensed by the Department of Public Instruction.
General Salary Range and Benefits*-For the 2012-2013 school year, the salary for Master Teachers (of which there will be two) is currently projected to be $61,406 with a signing bonus of $2,000 and a maximum performance bonus of $2,750. The salary for general education teachers is currently projected to be $50,055 for the 2012-2013 school year, with a signing bonus of$2,000 and a maximum performance bonus of$1,750. Madison Prep intends to provide a full range of benefits to its teachers. *Salary and bonus figures are subject to change
22. Ed Hughes: MMSD already has a charter middle school with a very diverse student population -James C. Wright Middle School. If the school district chose to continue James C. Wright as an instrumentality charter school but modeled on your Madison Prep proposal, which components of your proposal do yon think could be implemented at the school and which components of your proposal could not?
ULGM: The Urban League is not in a position to determine how the fundamental elements ofthe Madison Prep proposal could or could not be implemented at James C. Wright Middle School. That determination would have to be made by the district administration and c01mnunity at Wright.
23. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: Here is the annual report from one of the Urban League charter schools that the proposal cites as a model for Madison Prep:
http://www.doe.mass.edu/charter/reports/2009/annual/0471.doc This is a report from the school’s lO'” year in existence. Please note the test achievement goals and scores on page 4 and compare them with the extremely overconfident goals of the Madison Prep proposal. IfMadison Prep is serious about attaining the goal of 75% oftheir students scoring 22 or higher on the ACT or 1100 or higher on the SAT, how do they plan to achieve this and what will happen with those students who fail to meet this standard? What will happen to the teachers who don’t meet their quota ofstudent test scores above this level? Please investigate these questions in detail and within the framework of Madison Prep processes from admissions through expulsion.
ULGM: The reference to the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, Massachusetts in the Madison Prep initial proposal was meant to show the precedent for the establishment of charter schools by Urban League affiliates; the New Leadership Charter School is NOT a model for Madison Prep, nor was this ever stated in the initial proposal. That said, Madison Prep IS serious about our student achievement goals related to the ACT and SAT. We plan to meet these goals through-as the proposal states-an all-male student body, the International Baccalaureate Curriculum, college preparatory educational program, Harkness Teaching, an extended school day and year,mentoring and coll1111unity support, and a prep year. Students will be carefully assessed for years leading up to these tests to ensure their preparedness. When formative assessments indicate re-teaching is needed in order to meet the goal, students will receive further individualized instruction. Madison Prep teachers will not have student test score “quotas.”
24. Lucy Mathiak: What would a timeline for the counterpart girls’ school look like?
ULGM: We would like to initiate the process for the girls’ school in the fall of 2012, with an opening aimed at 2014-2015.
I continue to believe that the fate of this initiative will be a defining moment for the Madison School District. If approved and implemented, it will, over time, affect other traditional schools within the District. If it is rejected, a neighboring District will likely step in.
Finally, I found the Urban League’s response to Ed Hughes’ question #5 interesting:
DPI’s School Finance Data Warehouse indicates that MMSD reported $14,432 in revenue per student and spent $13,881 per student iu 2008-09. We are certain that we will not request more per student than what MMSD spends annually.
My six-year-old son is affectionate (a Southern granny couldn’t give bigger hugs), funny (he looked at me one morning and declared, “Mama’s hair is broke”), and bright (his memory is scary-sharp, and he can assemble a 250-piece puzzle five times faster than I can). He is also autistic.
We learned that Isaac had mild autism when he was three. A close friend asked my husband and me, “Do you notice how he flaps his hands? He has a lot of anxiety, too. I’m just wondering…” It had never crossed our minds. We just thought Isaac was eccentric, a late talker but a charmer. I Googled “autism symptoms” and sat at the computer in disbelief. Assessments followed. Out went his Montessori, where he was most often found safe in the lap of a teacher, far from the mayhem of Duck, Duck, Goose; in came a special-needs program with our school district. The teacher was kind but the classroom too large, the demands of the children too disparate. Isaac sat on his assigned carpet square, lined up for snacks, and absorbed nothing. He was slipping further into his obsessions–fountains, photographs, Dr. Seuss–and became so fettered by his fears of crying babies and barking dogs that it was hard to leave our house. During trips to the Getty or dinners at our local pizza joint, I bristled at the reproachful stares of strangers.
When I arrived at the Crossways Community in Kensington, I felt as if I had discovered a little-known gem.
Nestled on several acres behind an older neighborhood is an integrated learning environment that spans generations. It’s a place families can go to become healthy, single mothers can go to reshape their lives and become effective parents, children from all backgrounds can join in a diverse Montessori community and school, and people of all races and ethnicities can advance their education, language skills and more.
It is a place where one woman’s enrollment in the family education program while her daughter attended the early education program yielded her child a full ride to the private Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and later a Posse Scholarship to Grinnell College in Iowa.
“When they see their children really improving, they start seeing a future for themselves,” Crossways President Kathleen Guinan told me.
Among piles of paperwork and shelves crowded with books on edu-topics, David Elliott’s office at Coe Elementary is crammed with pictures of baseball teams he has coached, crayoned drawings, and letters with childish handwriting careening all over the page. There’s a lot of stuff that he is going to need to haul out of here at the end of June when he moves to become principal at Queen Anne Elementary.
Elliott concedes that a recent shift in focus at this soon-to-open school, coupled with a lack of publicity, has a lot of parents scratching their heads about whether or not to enroll their child in this so called “Option School.” And time is running out — the Open Enrollment period will come to a close on March 31st. To that end, Elliott sat down with me earlier this week (full disclosure: my kids go to Coe Elementary) to discuss this new venture he is heading up. Elliot’s answers to my questions are in italics.
At first Seattle Public Schools said that Queen Anne Elementary was going to be a Montessori school. Now it is going to have a “technology” focus. How did that change come about?
One key to the successful small high schools, almost without exception, is that they grew from the ground up. They weren’t created by some order from above. The people involved in launching the school knew what they wanted, were willing to do the hugely demanding work of making the school a reality and committed to continually working on improving what they did.
Montessori High fits that description. A charter school staffed by MPS employees, it is led by three teachers with no conventional principal. It is one of just a handful of Montessori high school programs in the U.S., and an even smaller number that combine the Montessori style of learning, with emphasis on individual development, with rigorous International Baccalaureate courses.
The environment in the school is somewhat casual, but serious. For example, 10 couches set the atmosphere for Chip Johnston’s history class, where the lively discussion on a recent morning dealt with reacting to the statement, “Liberty means responsibility.” Overall at the school, there is a strong emphasis on arts, on projects involving real-world issues, and on working with partners or in small groups.
I don’t know what job the members of the school board came to do. I don’t know what job they think they are doing. But I do know what job they aren’t doing: they aren’t doing the Board job.
The Board job begins with serving as the elected representatives of the public. But the Board members aren’t representing the public’s voice in Seattle Public Schools. They certainly aren’t advocating for the public’s perspective. We know that they aren’t because if they were, we would hear them begin their sentences with the words: “My constituents want… ” and they don’t. We don’t hear them say “My constituents want equitable access to language immersion programs.” or “My constituents want equitable access to Montessori programs.” or “My constituents want access to a real Spectrum program for their Spectrum-eligible children.” or “My constituents want reduced class sizes.” We aren’t hearing that. And we sure aren’t hearing them follow these statements with “So let’s make it happen for them.”
Standing outside a snow-covered garden at Nature’s Classroom Institute, teacher Dave Oyama poses a question to the group of bundled-up elementary-school children from Milwaukee:
“Though it’s not in use right now, this garden is organic. Does anyone know what organic means?”
Brows furrow. A few mittens go up. One child guesses “healthy.” Another thinks the word means “whole grains.”
On their second day at the Nature’s Classroom Institute, a residential environmental science school near Mukwonago, the children from Craig Montessori School are in the middle of a lesson that looks different than their traditional classroom work in the city.
As members of a pilot project between Milwaukee Public Schools and the nonprofit institute, the 25 students from Craig are the first from MPS to stay at the facility on 600 picturesque acres in northeastern Walworth County.
The students’ tuition from Feb. 16-19 was funded by an anonymous $6,000 grant from a Chicago donor, but organizers hope that the pilot will prompt fund raising to allow more city students to participate next years.
Charter schools offer hope for the future of our public education system. Charter schools promise options and opportunities for students and their parents that include diverse curricula — arts and humanities, career and vocational choices. They have unique delivery systems — distance learning, Montessori programs, special needs, and a mix of accelerated traditional and university courses. All meet high standards; all are accountable; all are independent and are defined as public schools, although with a new, expanded concept of public schools.
There are 25 charter schools in Nevada, two in Carson City, several in Washoe, Douglas and Lyon counties. (Nationally there are over 3,000 charter schools and the movement is fast growing.) Charter school growth has not been as robust in this state as in others, but it continues to receive support from the Legislature. In this legislative session there is a bill (AB489), that if passed will create an 18th school district for charter schools and will enable this new school district to authorize new charters.
I serve on the Silver State Charter High School Board in Carson City. This charter, a public school sponsored by the State Board of Education, is a distance learning school in which students interact with their teachers online as well as meet with them in person. The state has identified the school as “exemplary.” It is well managed and has a dedicated, licensed faculty and support staff. This charter school is a life-saver for over 500 kids and their parents.
Our urban and suburban school districts are under tremendous pressure to be all things for all students. Special learning needs and unique learning styles complicate the process of providing each student with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
I have served in conventional schools and public charter schools in the Milwaukee area. I’ve found that every school has its strengths as well as its needs to improve.
I am currently a speech therapist in two Milwaukee public charter schools, the Downtown Montessori Academy and Inland Seas High School. Yes, charter schools are actually public schools. Yes, many public charter schools provide special education services for frequently occurring disabilities.
Teaching at a charter school allows me to think outside the box as I serve my students. Public charter schools can offer teachers greater autonomy to be innovative in the classroom. For example, if a school’s reading program is not serving the needs of a classroom, charter schools have the autonomy to make changes as needs are identified. I think the ability to initiate necessary changes is where the “can-do” attitude of fellow teachers in charter schools comes from.
Many of Milwaukee’s charter schools are based on cutting-edge curriculums that serve a variety of learning styles. One option is referred to as “project based,” where students design and carry out a learning project of their particular interest. Another option is the student-led, teacher-guided Montessori environment. Direct instruction is a teacher-led style of learning that uses the repetition of very small, specifically targeted learning goals.
The melody was familiar – “Frere Jacques,” the nursery rhyme sung by generations of schoolchildren – but the words weren’t.
“Xia zhou jian, Xia zhou jian,” intoned Xu Chen to the final notes of the song. Gathered around her, the children attending the first day of the first Panda Academy at the Racine Montessori School followed along even if they didn’t know what they were saying. Roughly translated it meant “See you next week,” and it was the phrase which students would be expected to repeat as they left the room following their first lesson in the Chinese language.
The academy, which began Sept. 27, grew out of a desire to teach adopted Asian children about their heritage, to offer the language of a nation important to modern commerce, and to eliminate long drives for parents.
“I think every community has a burgeoning Asian population and not necessarily by adoption. The percentage of Asians in the country is very small, but it’s the fastest-growing,” said Kelly Gallaher, one of the people who organized the academy.
One point I should have made at the beginning of the previous post is the distinction between unschooling and homeschooling. Most home schooling is not unschooling–the parents have a curriculum and are following something closer to the conventional model than we are. And one can do unschooling in a school. Our kids were in a very small private school modeled on Sudbury Valley School for some years. Eventually problems arose, we switched from school unschooling to home unschooling, and on the whole found it more satisfactory. Hence the titles of these posts.
When our daughter was five, she was going to a local Montessori school. Her mother thought she was ready to learn to read; they didn’t. So Betty taught her to read, using Doctor Seuss books. Our son, three years younger, observed the process and taught himself. We heard about the local Sudbury school, new that year, brought our daughter over to visit. She decided she preferred it to the Montessori school, so we shifted her. A few years later we added her brother, a few years after that shifted to home schooling.
The Sudbury model includes classes if students want them. When our daughter was about ten there was a class, lasting somewhat over a year, in math. It started assuming the students knew nothing, ended with the early stages of algebra. That is pretty much all of the formal instruction either of them had. In addition, we required them to learn the multiplication tables, which are useful to know but boring to learn. That, I think, was the closest thing to compulsory learning in their education.
More and more Wisconsin school districts are experimenting with charter schools. Some 231 are in operation. Most have a specialty focus and are exempted from certain state regulations to facilitate new approaches to learning.
Appleton, for example, has 14 charter schools for its 15,000 students. These schools focus on Montessori learning, environmentalism, gifted education, the construction industry, arts immersion and alternative programs, among others.
Madison with its almost 25,000 students has held back, authorizing just two charters, the bilingual Nuestro Mundo on the east side, and the south side’s Wright Middle School, which despite its charter designation offers a program similar to Madison’s other middle schools.
The two Madison school board candidates — Marj Passman is the lone candidate for Seat 6, while Ed Hughes is running unopposed for Seat 7 — were relatively vague when we asked them about charter schools this week. Perhaps an inquiring voter will pin them down at an upcoming forum.
The program is a small, mixed-age classroom for first through third graders at the Montessori Children’s House on Madison’s west side, where my eldest child currently attends preschool. It is in danger of being eliminated because of diminishing enrollment. I think that this would be a horrible loss to many academically talented children who would do so well there. They do so many things right there, such as:
- Nurturing, home-like environment in which intense curiosity is normal
- Mixed-age classroom, which encourages children to work at their own pace – Elegant learning materials – Freedom of movement and plenty of outside time
- Freedom to follow their own intellectual curiosity
- No busy work
- No homework (unless the child chooses to keep working on something after school)
- Emphasis on peace and global citizenship
- Healthy snacks provided, healthy lunch
- Parental involvement welcomed (the school is a parent run co-op)
As a small community, it would only take a few more children to keep the program viable. If you are the parent of a child who would benefit from such an environment, would you please look at the school’s website http://www.madisonmontessori.org/programs/elementary/Elem_intro.html
and maybe take some time to observe the classroom?
Our family is committed to public schools, and we know that a school district needs talented kids and engaged families to thrive. This program would allow kids to integrate back into the public schools at a fairly young age, while protecting and nurturing them through a critical period of development. I wish I could be seven again and go to this school. As a child, I was fortunate to benefit from everything a TAG kid could ask for, such as before school programming, grade acceleration, and special summer programs. But what I needed more than anything else was to be in an environment like MCH’s elementary program.
Upon re-reading this message, it sounds like I’m making a blatant marketing pitch (which, frankly, I am). Please forgive me and understand that my only interest in the program is that it survive so that it is an option for my two children, ages 4 and 1, when they are old enough to need it. I hope that there are a few families here who might find a home there. Sincerely, Dawn M. Rappold [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Kathy Walsh Nufer: Appleton’s Board of Education hopes to maintain momentum — or what one member calls the “wow factor” — the school district has built in attracting outsiders, especially in an increasingly competitive landscape. In tight budget times, the district’s financial health and survival depends on it. John Mielke said the school cannot rest […]
Marc Eisen: The much-reviled Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) could be a surprising role model for the Madison school district as it begins formulating a plan to refashion its high schools for the demands of the 21st century. MPS, which educates a student body that is overwhelming minority and deeply ensnared in the tentacles of poverty, […]
Jason Shephard: As a teacher-centered lesson ended the other morning at Midvale Elementary School, about 15 first-graders jumped up from their places on the carpeted rug and dashed to their personal bins of books. Most students quickly settled into two assigned groups. One read a story about a fox in a henhouse with the classroom […]
Sheboygan School Board Approves Seven (7) Charter Schools DPI Charter School Grant Info Webcast on Friday, March 23, at 10:00am Beloit Considers Project-Based Charter School Environment-Focused Charter School Meetings at Stevens Point (March 30), Madison (May 2) and Oshkosh (May 10) Portage Charter School & Aldo Leopold Green Lake Charters Course for School Coulee Montessori […]
Appleton’s Odyssey – Magellan Charter School captures state MathCounts championship Environment-Focused Charter School Meetings at Stevens Point (March 30), Madison (May 2) and Oshkosh (May 10) Appleton Superintendent & WCSA President TOM SCULLEN Honored Lake Country Academy Wants Charter School Status Portage Charter School & Aldo Leopold Green Lake Charters Course for School Coulee Montessori […]
Sarah Carr: In Milwaukee, the School of Languages added Chinese as a partial immersion program this school year. The Marshall Montessori International Baccalaureate High School is starting to build a Mandarin program. When the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Languages opens in the fall, students as young as 4 will have at least a half-hour of […]
Two articles on Proposition 82: Dana Hull: It sounds like a no-brainer for advocates of early childhood education: a state ballot initiative that would offer preschool to every 4-year-old in California, free of charge to parents. What preschool wouldn’t be all for that? But as the June 6 election approaches, an increasingly vocal number of […]
State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster has announced $1.3 million in dissemination grants to 12 charter schools in nine school districts. The grants are part of the state’s $52 million, three-year federal funding to create 100 new charter schools in Wisconsin. Four of the grants renew previous dissemination projects; eight are for new projects, some of which […]
When the Cincinnati Public Schools devised a reform strategy for improving student performance, it became clear that the district’s traditional budgeting system was inadequate. The authors trace the district’s process of moving to a system of student-based budgeting: funding children rather than staff members and weighting the funding according to schools’ and students’ needs. By […]
Earlier this semester, 60 MMSD students — including 29 from West HS — were named 2006 National Merit Semifinalists. In a 10/12/05 press release, MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater said, “I am proud of the many staff members who taught and guided these students all the way from elementary school, and of this district’s overall guidance […]