Sussex Montessori Appears To Be Clueless On Special Education & Basic Charter Formation

Sussex Montessori School went through their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting in their application process.  I thought for sure, given this was their second attempt to apply for a charter, they would get it right and everything would be smooth sailing.  Instead, their application is missing a lot of information.  The committee smacked them up and down the court.

These are my favorite quotes from the report:

Ms. Field Rogers stated that families who choose charter schools typically want to remain with charter schools and cautioned the applicant that grade 6 retention could be problematic because the only other charter school in Sussex County, Sussex Academy, has a lottery for grade 6.

She added that Montessori schools typically have a higher percentage of students with unique needs because the model can address unique learning needs in ways many traditional schools cannot. Ms. Neugebauer cautioned the applicant to rethink this projection because students with unique learning needs may not always be identified for special education services.

Ms. Field Rogers noted that while the proposed school will be located in Sussex County, the Board only has two members who reside in Sussex County.

Ms. Neugebauer stated that she participated in DDOE’s two pre-application technical assistance workshops for new charter school applicants where she stressed the importance of demonstrating a strong understanding of special education requirements as opposed to cutting and pasting the regulations into the application.

…she noted that the application specifies that the IST which has a pre-referral focus will develop IEP’s which is the role of the IEP team.

The application does not demonstrate a clear understanding of the difference between the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements and 504 plan requirements.

Based on the projected 20% special education population, a .8 FTE special education teacher will not be sufficient to serve 52 students with IEPs.

…allowing only one officer to execute instruments, particularly without any parameters to that authority (e.g., amount, type, etc.) seems risky and could easily lead to problems with finances, fiscal responsibilities, oversight, etc.

Ms. Pitts stated that she has often seen organizations allude to diversity in its written materials but not in practice.

Ms. Field Rogers noted that the applicant’s projected low-income projection may not be accurate because transportation is a huge barrier in Sussex County for families without cars.

Schools cannot require birth certificates.

How will SMS ensure parents with transportation barriers are able to engage with the school and IEP meetings?

The application states that the school nurse will work with the foodservice vendor. This is not typically the role of a school nurse.

Nothing is budgeted in years 1-4 for supplies and materials. This seems unrealistic. $15,000 worth of supplies purchased in the planning year is not going to last for five years.

The amount budgeted is $50,000 per year. However, a different section of the application states that back office will cost $35,000 per year, which leaves $15,000 to cover audit and legal costs. The audit alone will cost nearly $15,000, so where is the remainder to cover legal?

Other Funds budget – line 6 – Miscellaneous Revenue – indicates that teachers will be required to reimburse the school for professional development training in Year 1 (paid over 3 years at $10,000 per teacher). a. Is this a standard practice? b. Do teachers have to pay for their own professional development?

I fully understand applying for a new charter school is not an easy task.  Which is why you should ALWAYS have someone with extensive charter school experience on your initial Board of Directors.  That’s the part that confuses me here, because they do have someone with that experience.  Patricia Hermance is a former Head of School at Campus Community School in Dover.  When they had two locations, one for their elementary school and one for their middle and high school, Hermance ran the elementary school for years.  When they closed the high school, she ran the elementary and middle school in one building for the first year.  She should know at least half this stuff!  I can’t believe this Board would present this to the Charter School Accountability Committee like this.  Slam dunk?  More like a foul!

To read the full report, please see below.

3 thoughts on “Sussex Montessori Appears To Be Clueless On Special Education & Basic Charter Formation

  1. I am a supporter of Montessori education but have many issues with this school being a Charter. First and foremost, it is faith based. It should be a private school not a Charter receiving State funding. Secondly, as Kevin pointed out, this is not a program that would be conducive for all children. While it’s methodology will work for some it won’t work for many and it most certainly won’t work for children on the Spectrum who crave structure. I will be writing in to fight this school being a Charter.

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  2. Actually, some are. There is a church in Newark that runs a large Montessori preschool that is faith-based. However, under the current legal applications of “separation of church and state,” no public school – that goes for public charter Montessoris – can teach a faith or display articles of faith on a daily basis. There have been at least charters in an old school buildings that was attached to active churches where DOE required locking steel doors to be installed to create a physical divide. No accidentally looking at crosses children… God might distract you from your Smarter Balance. Blah!

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