Montessori making the grade |

Montessori making the grade

John Colson

There will be fewer students than initially hoped for, and one lower-elementary class has been dropped from the schedule, but Carbondale’s once-controversial Ross Montessori School is on track to become a reality next month.The charter school’s principal reportedly arrived in town last week and soon will become the public face of the new school. Mark Grice, a former teacher at Colorado Rocky Mountain School and Aspen High School, recently received a degree in school administration from Harvard University and was employed for a time at the American School of London in England.According to school board president Tami Cassetty, Aug. 1 is the anticipated completion date of the school’s new building, a collection of 16 modulars that are to begin arriving from Phoenix in mid-July. The school year is scheduled to begin on Aug. 30, in conjunction with the Re-1 School District’s calendar.Ross Montessori will be located at the corner of Merrill Avenue and 4th Street, near Carbondale Town Hall, on a lot leased from Town Trustee John Foulkrod for $2,600 per month to start. Cassetty said the purchase price of the school structures is $650,000, but the school will rent them for $14,000 per month with an option to purchase.”We’re set for two years of lease payments,” Cassetty said, after which time the school board will determine its next move. Other costs incurred by the school have been water and sewer tap fees of roughly $20,000, approximately $100,000 for infrastructure at the school site, and $28,000 for Montessori-style educational supplies.The school so far has depended on a one-time Colorado Department of Education grant of $450,000 to be used over three years (plus an additional $42,000 for this year alone), plus the expectation of receiving about 95 percent of the roughly $6,300 in per-pupil funding that is to come from the state annually. The school also is applying for other grants, including a $180,000 Walton Family Foundation “start-up grant.”Cassetty said the school’s development has been greatly aided by in-kind donations from a variety of businesses, parents and individuals without direct ties to the school but who support the idea of a Montessori grade school in Carbondale. The school, which was chartered under the new Charter School Institute of Colorado in March, will open with seven teachers, three teaching assistants, a principal, an assistant principal, and a part-time janitor. Enrollment, at this point, is 142 students, down from 168 students the school had planned to enroll.According to Cassetty, the school board dropped one class at the lower-elementary level, which means it will open with three lower-elementary classes, with 24 students per class being instructed by a teacher and an assistant; two kindergarten classes, with 14 students per class and one teacher per classroom; and two upper-elementary classes, with 21 kids and one teacher per class. Six of the seven teachers were recruited from the Montessori strand at Carbondale Elementary School, which was terminated by the Re-1 School Board after the Ross Montessori School was granted its charter.”With that enrollment, we are full, except for our kindergarten,” said Cassetty, explaining that “a few spaces” remain at the kindergarten level. She said the school has a waiting list of families hoping to get their kids into other grades. The opening of Ross Montessori follows a controversial community-wide debate about educational philosophies and priorities. That debate included fears among some in the community that the Montessori push was racially motivated – a way to put white kids in an educational environment unaffected by Carbondale’s burgeoning Latino population, with its problems relating to literacy in both Spanish and English.But Cassetty noted the school’s population is estimated to be 20 to 25 percent Latino.”We’ve done a whole lot with our outreach efforts,” Cassetty said, adding that the efforts will continue. In addition, she said, the school will have a teacher dedicated to teaching English to Spanish speakers, and Spanish to English speakers, as a way of integrating the two cultures.”We want the world for our kids,” Cassetty declared. John Colson’s e-mail address is