Charter Deja Vu in Madison: Isthmus Montessori Academy proposes Madison charter school to focus on achievement gap

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 could help tackle Madison schools’ thorniest problems.

Last month, the academy submitted a proposal to open Madison’s first public Montessori school in September 2015. As Madison’s fourth charter school, it would be tuition-free and open to anyone. It would also employ unionized Madison teachers, potentially avoiding a hurdle that tripped up proponents of the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school in 2011.

Perhaps most significant, Droessler and others believe the Montessori approach could raise low-income and minority student achievement.

“The achievement gap will probably be the biggest part of our pitch,” she says “We feel it’s time for this in Madison. There’s no other motive.”

Organizers want to submit a grant application to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction by April 15 that could net $150,000 for planning costs next year. The Madison school board is expected to vote whether to green-light the application at its March 31 meeting, though any binding decision to establish the school is at least 10 months away, according to district policy governing the creation of charter schools.

Board member James Howard has toured the academy at 255 N. Sherman Ave. on the city’s near-northeast side. He says he’s interested in the proposal but needs to know more before forming an opinion. Ditto for board president Ed Hughes.

Related: Previous stillborn Madison charter initiatives include: The Studio School and the Madison Preparatory Academy IB school.