New charter school will fragment community
It’s understandable why a group of Carbondale parents would want to found a new Montessori school, but it’s still lamentable that the charter school was approved this week, because the school community will become more segregated and fragmented as a result.Already, Montessori and other educational options in Carbondale tend to attract many more Anglo than Latino students, leaving Carbondale Elementary with a disproportionate majority of Latino students. According to the Roaring Fork School District, nearly 60 percent of students at Carbondale Elementary are Latino, while roughly 40 percent are Anglo.Percentages at the Carbondale Community School, a local charter school, and at the Montessori “strand” in the district, are the reverse – a large majority of Anglos.On its face, perhaps, there isn’t anything worrisome about this discrepancy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with parents choosing where their children attend school.But to the degree a public school is supposed to reflect its community, there is something amiss here. Anglos seem to be leaving the so-called traditional classrooms and heading for the alternative options, creating separate school communities defined as much by their ethnic character as their teaching philosophy. District officials and even the town of Carbondale have weighed in on the matter, stating clearly that a second charter school will only aggravate the existing problem.Still, the state Charter School Institute put the pleas of Montessori parents before those of the school district and the town this week and approved the Ross Montessori proposal. The school’s contract is up for renewal in three years.This may be a short-term victory for the parents who advanced the proposal, and even perhaps for their children who are guaranteed spots at the school, but it doesn’t help the long-term prospects for education in Carbondale. The ongoing struggle to bring Carbondale Elementary up to state academic standards remains, and will arguably get tougher as Anglo students from higher-income families head for the charter schools. The traditional public school will be left to handle most of the students who come from families where English is a second language, if it’s spoken at all.As the Carbondale Town Council stated in a letter to the Institute board, “the result, should the Montessori charter be approved, would be that our small town would have two charters that are predominantly Anglo and affluent, and the public school, which would be 80 percent Latino, and more than half of the student population qualifying for free or reduced lunch.”Again, the Roaring Fork School District has allowed problems at Carbondale Elementary to fester for a long time, and it should surprise nobody that many parents would want to opt out. But the Ross Montessori School, while offering some families an alternative to the struggling elementary school, will only exacerbate Carbondale’s most vexing community challenge – that of integrating its culturally and economically divided population.
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