Ross Montessori organizers defend school |

Ross Montessori organizers defend school

John Colson

A group of Carbondale-area activists deeply involved in opening the Ross Montessori School in late August maintain they are not creating a school that is a haven for “white-flight” families and their children.In fact, members of the group said they have done considerable “outreach” to attract area Latino families and plan to continue to try to raise the percentage of Latino students at Ross above the approximately 25 percent level that exists today.The group spoke in response to recent statements from two critics of the new charter school’s effects on the public schools.The creation of Ross Montessori has been controversial since it was first suggested in response to rumors that the RE-1 School District was planning to discontinue the in-house Montessori program at Carbondale Elementary School. The district did exactly that late in the 2004-05 school year.Some have argued that the move to establish Ross was little more than a racially tinged reaction to the increase of Latino students in the Carbondale school system, especially as Anglo families grew worried about the quality of education for their children at Carbondale Elementary. The feeling, according to this line of thinking, was that teachers would spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy working with immigrant children struggling to learn English and often illiterate in their native language, Spanish.Tami Cassety, Carolyn Fisher and Nancy LaJoy, all of whom are involved with the school’s founding, and the newly hired principal, Mark Grice, said they’re reaching out to Latinos.”We want to be representative of the community,” said LaJoy, who was involved in the initial efforts to establish a Montessori “strand” at Carbondale Elementary several years ago and, more recently, in the creation of Ross Montessori.Cassety said outreach included publication of all promotional materials in English and Spanish; the placement of flyers around town; the use of “phone trees” to reach the families of prospective enrollees; public meetings held in English and Spanish; radio spots; articles in the “La Mision” Spanish-language newspaper; a booth at Carbondale’s Cinco de Mayo celebration; and canvassing the Santa Lucia low-income apartment complex in Carbondale.”I think our outreach to Latino families has been huge, and it’s going to continue,” she said.Grice said that while many of the town’s Latino families undoubtedly were aware of the enrollment campaign, some may have stayed away because there was no actual school building filled with teachers and administrators to quiz.Critics have noted that the school has not yet met its Latino enrollment goal. Ross Montessori organizers have a target of having Latinos make up about 30 percent of the student body, which they say corresponds roughly to Carbondale’s ratio of Latinos to Anglos and mirrors the RE-1 goal for Latino student levels. The critics maintain, based on town of Carbondale information, that Latinos make up possibly as much as 50 percent of Carbondale’s population.But Grice said the numbers should not be a strict guide anyway because Ross Montessori is drawing students from a much wider base than just the immediate Carbondale area.And, he said, “We do have more diversity than just Anglo-Latino,” mentioning students from Swedish families, students with developmental handicaps and students from other nations and cultures.Concerning the question of helping Latino students adjust to the Anglo culture, supporters noted that although the school will not offer formal bilingual education, it has a Spanish-speaking teacher whose job is to teach Spanish to English speakers and English to Spanish speakers.And, they said, the effort to start the charter Montessori school cannot be blamed for the flight of Anglo students from Carbondale Elementary, because it began long before Ross Montessori was contemplated.LaJoy pointed to an August 2004 letter from the principal to parents that detailed Carbondale Elementary’s low test scores in reading and math proficiency and offered to use district funds to pay the costs of bussing students to higher-performing schools.Critics also worry that Ross Montessori’s student body will not be representative of the income distribution in the town of Carbondale. While Carbondale Elementary has a relatively large number of students who qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced-cost lunches, critics say Ross Montessori is more likely to draw children from middle-class backgrounds or higher.Cassety and Fisher said those statistics are not available yet because the forms to collect such information have only recently been sent out.”We would like to move forward from here. We’ve got to have a point where the community comes together,” LaJoy said.Cassety said she thinks Ross Montessori will exert a positive influence on other schools. “Competition is good,” she said, pointing to reports that Carbondale Elementary is adding Spanish language for English speakers, music classes and outdoor education to its curriculum.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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