Parents and teachers dressed in blue came out to the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night to show support for Carroll Creek Montessori Public Charter School.
The school, which opened in 2012, was up for discussion and action by the board regarding the renewal of their charter contract for 10 years. The current contract ends June 30, 2020.
The contract, however, was in question following Schools Superintendent Terry Alban’s recommendation to the board in November for a probationary renewal because of concerns regarding student achievement.
According to Alban, after FCPS staff spent four years doing a thorough analysis of the school, the district found issues with the school’s performance in math.
She told the board in November that only 19.8 percent of elementary students at Carroll Creek Montessori met the standard for math proficiency, compared with 52.7 percent of students who met the standard of proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA).
When compared with traditional public elementary schools in the county, the students of Carroll Creek fell 30 percentage points below in math performance.
Alban and FCPS staff also said support systems in the school for students who need additional help, such as math intervention, weren’t strong enough.
“Just by nature of the Montessori approach, there is kind of a personalized, individualized approach. But when children are not able to meet the standards, we have to show how support and intervention has been provided,” said Alban, who further explained that although Carroll Creek has worked to put math specialists in place, it is still not where it needs to be.
At the board meeting, members seemed frustrated that the school had still not laid out a plan on how to meet the indicated targets.
“What I would love to see is some enthusiasm around explaining to the board the how ... where is the how, guys?” board member Liz Barrett said. “This is a big deal, and I can’t look at this tonight and feel comfortable.”
Board member Joy Schaefer said one of the targets for next year should not only be meeting benchmarks but also a simpler way for student achievement at the Montessori level to be compared against state and federal requirements.
“Society put on a man on the moon. I feel like we should be able to come up with some kind of way that we can take all that student data and align it to something that we can put forward with confidence and say we know that these kids will be prepared,” Schaefer said.
Marilyn Horan, principal at Carroll Creek Montessori, said it is difficult to match up Montessori student progress on a timeline comparable to that of a public school student.
“I know that you need to see it and need numbers and numbers as you know in Montessori is harder to share,” Horan said. “It takes an exorbitant amount of time when things are learned individually to quantify where every single person is on every single skill.”
Before making a motion, the board questioned whether there should be renewal at all, or whether a simple one-year probationary period should be enacted. The board ultimately opted against that, due to facility constraints it would put on the school.
Board President Brad Young raised that same concern at the board’s discussion in November, saying long-term charters make it easier to negotiate better rates on new facilities.
The board approved two motions — one to renew Carroll Creek’s contract for five years and the second to place them into a one-year probationary period, during which the school must work to meet benchmarks previously identified by FCPS staff.
But board member Michael Bunitsky voted against the motion for a five-year renewal He said he is a precedent of a 10-year renewal was set by the board with previous schools for various reasons, including the facilities issue brought up by Young.
“I feel like we’re not being true to ourselves if we’re not following our own precedent,” Bunitsky said. “If we’re not going to follow it in this, then I guess we’re not going to follow it in other things either. I find that disconcerting.”
He also said he loves the Montessori method and doesn’t necessarily feel the label of probation is a good thing.
“I felt like this is not really a positive thing, saying that they’re on probation when they need help,” Bunitsky said.
After the vote, Alban said she felt the board supported her recommendation and that FCPS will staff will work with CCMPCS staff to identify and meet needs, the only difference being that some FCPS staff are not as knowledgeable about the Montessori curriculum or instructional approach.
Horan said in an email she is looking forward to continuing collaboration with FCPS to improve academic achievement.
“Our Continuous School Improvement Team started working on strategies when PARCC scores were released in the fall and are confident that our work at the building level in conjunction with the advice and support of the FCPS administrative staff will yield positive results,” she said.
When asked about the five-year renewal, Horan brought up the facilities issue of having such a short contract, but that she is hopeful for a future longer renewal.
“Securing a renewal period of 10 years rather than five would allow for more options when looking for financing of our facilities,” Horan said. “We are grateful to the BOE for their offer to reconsider this at a later time.”