A meeting held last week to explore the possibility of combining the Montessori and Crawford schools was well attended by both staff and parents. Many arrived at the meeting assuming the move was a "done deal," but that is not the case, school district administrators stressed.
The final decision will be made by the school board after a period of observation and a second community meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the North Fork Montessori School in Hotchkiss.
But "business as usual" in Crawford may no longer be an option, superintendent Caryn Gibson said. Enrollment is down by 11 this year, to just 61 students. Given the local economy, declining student population countywide and the effect those numbers will have on state funding, the school district budget is being "squeezed."
Assistant superintendent Kurt Clay provided a financial snapshot of both schools. The bottom line — potential savings of $186,238 if the two schools are combined. That doesn't come close to the $400,000 the school district would save by closing the Crawford School, but district administrators insist they're committed to keeping a school in Crawford.
One parent pointed out the schools aren't actually being "combined" — the Montessori curriculum is simply being moved to Crawford. That would be the case, Delaine Hudson, director of alternative education, agreed. The result would be a Colorado Department of Education-designated "school of innovation."
Parents from both schools are concerned they could lose two really good schools in the process. They also want to retain the "closeness" of the small school environment. Both concerns were added to the list of pros and cons provided by the school district (see Sept. 25 DCI), along with the fact the final decision could potentially be made by a school board with three new members.
"How do we know we have the student base to make a school that's financially viable?" one parent asked.
Clay "guesstimated" at least 100 K-6 students are needed to make the proposal work.
He said it is possible some Montessori parents will not want to make the move to Crawford, while some Crawford parents may not feel comfortable with the Montessori curriculum and decide to send their students to Paonia or Hotchkiss.
"My personal opinion is, I think we're going to lose some of the kids from Crawford but I also think we would gain other kids. There will be some transition both ways," Clay said.
A parent survey at the conclusion of the study period will likely be the best way to gauge future enrollment, he said.
School board member Kathy Svenson said parents who vote "no" should be required to come up with another option for keeping Crawford School viable.
As a contract school, the North Fork Community Montessori School has its own board of directors. That autonomy would be lost — a "school of innovation" would be governed by the district school board. For that reason the Montessori board is simultaneously exploring the possibility of becoming a charter school.
While that's an option for both schools, Clay questioned the long-term sustainability. Under an agreement with the Vision Charter Academy, the school district retains about 18% of per-pupil funding for administration, special education and other contracted services. His figures show that even with full per-pupil funding, Crawford cannot cover the cost of salaries and supplies, much less utilities, transportation, food service and building maintenance.
While the proposal is to create a PK-6 school at Crawford, many parents expressed interest in re-establishing classes for seventh and eighth grades. That's something that could be pursued in the future, Clay said, but it is not part of the initial plan.
Bill Eyler, the head of the North Fork Community Montessori School, was given an opportunity to explain how the curriculum works. The Montessori curriculum is used in 20 public schools in Colorado and meets the state standards in a "fun, creative way." The kids are divided into three groups based on ability, not age. Teachers work hard to provide individualized instruction and offer electives such as music, art and Spanish. There are many similarities between the multi-level instruction in Crawford and the Montessori curriculum, several teachers said.
Existing Crawford staff would either need to pursue Montessori certification or transfer to another school, depending on staffing needs and personal preference. "No one will be without a job," Gibson said at a school board meeting the week before.
The timeline also generated some comments. Some parents and staff members feel rushed. Hudson said it's important to have a plan approved by the first of the year so the next five months can be spent on preparing for the transition. If the proposal moves forward, the Montessori school would open in Crawford in the fall.blog comments powered by Disqus