A parent-driven proposal for a new Montessori school entered the mix, as three local groups applied to the state to open new charter schools in New Haven.
The state received seven applications by an April 1 deadline, including three from New Haven, from groups aiming to open new charter schools in 2013 or 2014, state Department of Education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly announced last week. The proposals came in response to an RFP issued by the state.
Two of the four groups that initially showed interest in opening charters in New Haven followed through with the application this year, according to Donnelly: One is a math and science high school led by Ismail Agirman, a senior engineer at Otis Elevators. Another is an proposal spearheaded by Varick Memorial AME Zion Church pastor Eldren D. Morrison to open a pre-K to 4 school in Newhallville. Those two proposals would be traditional state-sanctioned charters, public schools that operate under independent charters, outside of the governance of traditional school districts.
The state this year also accepted ideas for new “local charter” schools that would fall under the supervision of a local school board.
New Haven got one proposal for a local charter. The idea came from a group of moms who liked the Montessori model. The moms assembled a board, including Dave Low, a vice-president of the teachers union, and John Freeman, principal of the Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet in Hartford, which the school would be modeled after. The group proposes opening the Elm City Montessori School this fall with 69 kids aged 3 to 5; then expand it over five years to serve 209 kids up to grade 4. The school would be New Haven’s first public Montessori school, according to co-founder and parent leader Eliza Halsey.
Because the proposal is a local charter, the New Haven school board now has 60 days to review the applications, hold a public hearing, “survey teachers and parents to determine if there is sufficient interest in the establishment of a local charter school,” and take a vote. If the school board approves, the proposal will be passed along to the state Department of Education.
State education chief Stefan Pryor will score all applications and make recommendations to the state Board of Education, according to Donnelly. The state has been slow to create more charters in recent years: No new charter school has been approved since 2007, Donnelly said. Connecticut has 17 charter schools.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget includes funding for nine new charter schools over the next two years. However, the budget still needs approval from the state legislature, which has been eying cuts to various aspects of the state’s education reforms, especially to programs that represent new spending.
Pryor said Thursday that the legislature has has made “no revision as of yet” to funding for new charter schools. “That discussion is yet to come.”
Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, urged the state to create more good charter schools. He said there are 4,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools statewide, enough to fill “almost double” the number of charter schools that currently exist.
Opponents argue charter schools draw students with proactive parents out of regular school districts, and push difficult kids back to traditional schools, creating a two-tiered education system that hurts public school districts. After years of fighting with local charter schools, Mayor John DeStefano has embraced them; he has expressed support for the Montessori charter at public school board meetings.