They have a site, a plan and plenty of passion, yet a group of parents and educators wait to hear whether the Buckeye Union School District will welcome their petition to create a new charter Montessori school.
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Lakehills Covenant Church in El Dorado Hills offered to house the first through eighth-grade school to be named Rising Sun Montessori Charter. Currently, Rising Sun’s affiliate school, the private Sundance Montessori in Folsom, holds a toddler program and preschool/kindergarten combo class in two of Lakehills’ Sunday school classrooms.
“The board at Sundance started looking into how we could build our elementary program about three years ago,” said Brenda Rios, a founding members of the Rising Sun Montessori Charter petition and vice chairwoman of the board. “Sundance kept losing students to the Folsom-Cordova district charter Montessori school (because district monies pay for it versus private tuition) and people approached us about starting a charter as well.”
Since 1991 charter schools have been an option in the United States. The difference between private and charter schools is that the latter receives public school district funds though they operate independently from the school district of which they are affiliated.
Rising Sun board members are all educators, Rios explained of the grassroots campaign. “Two of us have kids in elementary school at Sundance and we kept asking, ‘What quality program can we send them to?”
“About a year ago we started to gather information and then started a petition to create Rising Sun,” continued Rios, who emphasized Rising Sun is a separate school from Sundance, though many of the same principles Sundance has implemented in its 25-year existence will be applied.
“At first we asked Lakehills Church if we could use two classrooms they only use for Sunday school to expand our Sundance toddler and preschool/kindergarten classes,” said Rios. “Soon Pastor Ron Short (the senior pastor at Lakehills) said, ‘You know, we already have this education building that’s already coded and ready for a school.’”
Pastor Ron affirmed his excitement for the new charter. “We originally built Lakehills (in 2008) with a school in mind, but we’ve been waiting for just the right partner,” he said. “We weren’t looking for a private Christian school, but one that fits our particular values of being community centered. Rising Sun Montessori is just that. Now we’re just waiting for the green light for our education building to be used during the week and not just on weekends.”
Even its name comes from its desired location at Lakehills. “After the high integrity, quality private school program at Sundance, we wanted a similar tie-in,” said Rios. “The ‘sun’ is also because up on top of the rolling hills at Lakehills Church the school will face the east and it’s so beautiful at daybreak. It’s also a metaphor for new beginnings and authenticity in education.”
In its first year, Rising Sun Montessori would enroll 75 students between first and sixth grade and would add seventh grade its second year and eighth grade by the third.
Kindergarten is not included, Rios explained, because in the Montessori method there’s a vital, three-year age grouping: two years of preschoolers and kindergarteners are placed together; first through third graders; and then fourth through sixth grades. In that first year, whether it be preschool, first grade or fourth grade, children are eager and excited as they grasp new knowledge and get to know their new surroundings, both academically and socially. By the second year, they are getting familiar and absorbing these new surroundings. The third year is a mastery and leadership year. Whether it’s kindergarten, third grade or sixth grade, students can then teach information back to the younger students and know they’ve reached mastery. This is why K/1 combinations or third/fourth combinations, for instance, go against this component of child development, said Rios.
“We don’t want to pull kindergarten out of that important leadership year. We want to stay true to the Montessori age grouping,” said Rios. “It’s so important for their development.”
In the school’s first year there would be two classes of combined first through third graders and one class of fourth through sixth grade. In the second year they project 100 students and adding a second class of fourth through sixth.
The founding members submitted a comprehensive petition to the Buckeye Union School District this summer, said Rios. “It’s got the whole kitchen sink at 600-plus pages. When we drafted our proposal, we were initially told by the Buckeye school board, ‘We’ve met the need. We have two charter Montessori schools in the area already’,” said Rios.
“But there is a need,” Rios said. “We have parents calling us everyday to tell us there is.”
The California Montessori Project is located in Shingle Springs and the Blue Oak Montessori Charter has been housed at Blue Oak Elementary since 2004.
“Blue Oak Charter Montessori has space and we have been considering its expansion,” Buckeye superintendent David Roth told Village Life. “So when contacted by these petitioners last summer we had not been planning on adding another charter Montessori program to Buckeye Union. A public hearing regarding their petition was conducted at the Sept. 18 board meeting. Our board will hear the district’s review of the petition on Oct. 29.”
“The California Montessori Project is highly impacted,” said Rios. “This year alone they turned down 200 students.
“The other option, Blue Oak Montessori, isn’t performing well based on test scores,” she added.
The statewide Academic Performance Index rank ranges from 1 to 10 and is often called a school’s report card. A statewide rank of 1 means that the school has an API score in the lowest 10 percent of all schools in the state, while a statewide rank of 10 means that the school has an API score in the highest 10 percent. In 2009 Blue Oak Montessori earned an 8/10, in 2010 a 7/10 and in 2011 a 6/10.
“In the end, we believe this is a pro-education move, not an anti-public school one,” said Pastor Ron. “It would only add to the great choices families in El Dorado Hills have.”
On Oct. 14 the Rising Sun board hosted an open forum to hear from residents. Rios said most of the questions were about class size and enrollment. They’d cap classes at 25 students and emphasized their philosophy of slowly growing the program even if demand outweighs space.
“If this happens, we’d have a lottery, per California state law, to get in. Preference would go to children with previous Montessori experience, founding members’ children (there are only two who would apply) and students living within the Buckeye school district,” explained Rios, adding that Rising Sun is more than ready to embrace common core.
Rios said if it’s not approved they plan to appeal to the El Dorado County superintendent of schools. Call 916-985-6034 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.