Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School may soon become the first Montessori charter high school in Frederick County.
During an annual report to the Frederick County Board of Education this week, Molly Spence, president of Monocacy Montessori Communities Inc., said the school is looking to expand and bring in grades 9 through 12.
The school currently serves students in pre-K through eighth grade and is housed in a building in downtown Frederick. Students gain enrollment through an annual lottery system, and there are approximately 40 open spots a year.
Spence told board members the details of the grade expansion are still being worked out, but the board should receive a fleshed-out plan soon.
With the expansion, the school is also looking for a new home.
“We have been valiantly searching for many years to re-home our school. ... We’re searching for a single school building for our school or a campus that we can share with our sister school, Carroll Creek Montessori Public Charter School,” Spence said.
Over the past two years, more than 40 properties have been explored, but none have worked out. Besides price, one of the biggest roadblocks in securing a space has been zoning restrictions, according to Spence.
“We had found some properties that we thought would be great and then come to realize that they’re not appropriately zoned, and that has been a frustration for us,” she said.
In addition to the school’s future plans, Principal Amy Dorman briefed board members on the academic performance of students over the last year. For the most part, students in first through eighth grades surpassed benchmarks in both mathematics and reading. The data did show a slight mid-year slump in performance though, and when asked why, Dorman said she isn’t able to point to one indicator.
“I would say that there was a lot going on last year, it was my first year in the principal’s seat, there was some reshuffling and some reorganizing going on,” Dorman said. “But I would say it’s a point of interest to me and something I will be looking at moving forward to see what to do about it or if it shows up again.”
Board member David Bass asked Dorman what benefits and challenges she sees related to mixed-age classrooms, which is one of the main philosophies of the school.
Dorman said she sees only positives.
“What happens is students are not boxed into each grade level, so if a child is ready to soar and to explore and to go into a topic more in-depth, she doesn’t have to wait until she graduates from first grade and then goes into second,” Dorman said. “There’s just so many opportunities for achieving at a more individualized or personal level when you have those mixed-age classrooms.”
Bass also asked about the racial demographics of the school. According to data provided by Monocacy Valley, 63 percent of students enrolled during the 2019-2020 school year identified as white, 10 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino, 10 percent as Black or African American and 8 percent as Asian. The demographic makeup of the school is slightly askew from FCPS as a whole. During the same school year, 56 percent of FCPS students identified as white, 18 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino, 13 percent as Black or African American and 6 percent as Asian.
Bass noted the difference and asked if Monocacy Valley is working on any strategies to better reflect the diversity of the county in its enrollment.
Spence said there are plans being developed for both Monocacy Valley and Carroll Creek that include more outreach to certain communities, but at the end of the day the schools are limited due to the lottery enrollment system.