School district officials lament approval of Montessori charter
Officials from the Roaring Fork School District and the town of Carbondale said Tuesday that the opening of a new Montessori elementary school in Carbondale next fall will damage the town as a whole, worsening the ethnic divide between Anglos and Latinos there.On Monday, a state education board approved the opening of the Ross Montessori charter school in Carbondale. The decision comes just over a month after the district disbanded Montessori education at Carbondale Elementary School, citing evidence that the majority Anglo program caused ethnic segregation at the predominantly Latino school. Opening a new Montessori school will only worsen the situation, district and town officials said yesterday, as Anglo parents will withdraw from Carbondale Elementary to start their own school. While 60 percent of Carbondale Elementary is Latino, the Montessori program is 64 percent Anglo. It stands to reason that many of those white students will now leave Carbondale Elementary for the new charter school, district Superintendent Fred Wall said.”The approval was a real disappointment,” Wall said. “There’s an element of segregation in Montessori that I don’t think is helpful for the community as a whole.””About 50 years ago this country said segregated education is not a positive thing for children, their families, or their communities,” Carbondale Trustee Alice Laird said. “This decision is disappointing to people who are concerned about integrating education.”Trustee Scott Chaplin said the Carbondale board of trustees agreed unanimously to lobby against the new school.”I think it’s a disappointment to all of us,” he said.Randy DeHoff, the executive director of the State Chartering Institute, which approved the new school, said the school will reflect the demographics of the town as a whole. He also said ethnic outreach programs by the new school’s steering committee greatly helped the application. DeHoff said while Carbondale Elementary School is 60 percent Latino, the town of Carbondale is only 30 percent Latino, according to census data. The discrepancy exists because many Anglo parents have already withdrawn their kids from Carbondale Elementary, sending them to private schools or other public schools in the area.So in order for the new Montessori school to be integrated, according to that reasoning, it needs to have only 30 percent Latino students.”The enrollment will match the demographic of the community – not the elementary school, admittedly – but the community. The Montessori folks really convinced us that they’ve done outreach efforts to include a proportional number of Latinos.”DeHoff acknowledged that even if the new school manages to recruit Latinos, the greater influx of Anglo Montessori students from Carbondale Elementary will alter ethnic conditions at the traditional school. But he said such “white flight” was inevitable after the district disbanded Montessori at Carbondale Elementary this year.”What I got from both sides is that 50 to 75 percent of the parents who are currently in the Montessori strand would leave the local elementary school even if the charter school got turned down. Now at least we can make sure they stay in the community and at a public school,” he said.DeHoff added that the new school’s charter contract is up for renewal in three years. Certain requirements, including mandated academic performance levels, are included in the contract. If the school doesn’t meet these requirements, DeHoff said, the contract will not be renewed.While state law prohibits ethnic quotas, DeHoff said integration is something the state board will consider in three years.”They said they’ll get 30 percent,” he said. “If they’re wrong we can go back and revisit their application.”Such a problem doesn’t assuage critics of the new school such as Chaplin who believe Carbondale’s education system has now become a house divided against itself.”Maybe if the two schools are close enough we can have the kids play during recess,” Chaplin said. “I hate to see this population getting any more segregated.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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