January 19, 2007

RR Board Considers Charters; New Schools Would Be Based on Montessori Concept

By ELAINE D. BRISEO Journal Staff Writer

Rio Rancho could soon have not only its first, but its second charter school.

The Rio Rancho Public Schools board is reviewing two applications for charter schools.

Both schools are being started by Algene Herrick, who started The Montessori Elementary private school in Albuquerque. Herrick told the board this week that she eventually converted the school into a private school and now wants to bring the Montessori concept to Rio Rancho.

Montessori schools allow children to work at their own pace. Students are lumped together by age ranges. For example, one class will contain 6-to 9-year-olds and so on. The older students help guide the younger students.

Herrick is hoping to start the Westside Montessori Elementary Charter School and the Westside Montessori Mid-High Charter School. The elementary school would be for kindergarten through sixth-grade students and the mid-high would serve seventh-through ninthgrade students. The elementary school would have 150 to 170 students and the mid-high 90 to 100.

The board must approve the charter applications and held a public hearing Monday to ask Herrick questions and get public input.

Herrick told the board she decided to start the school in Rio Rancho because many students at the other school she started came from Rio Rancho.

The schools would be open to all students, even those that do not live in Rio Rancho. Herrick said she does not yet know where the schools would be located. She said that she had unofficially looked for old buildings around Rio Rancho that could be renovated but those types of buildings are scarce. She said it was possible she would need to construct a new building. She is hoping to open the schools in the fall of 2008.

School district administrators have reviewed the applications and have met with Herrick to discuss their concerns.

The staff and board had the following concerns and comments:

Board member Margaret Terry wanted to know if Herrick has researched the district and why she had selected it. Herrick said she had many parents in other schools that were from Rio Rancho

Board member Marty Scharfglass asked how Herrick would make sure she hires quality teachers. She said her teachers must meet the same qualifications as other public school teachers. She said it was difficult to find teachers who are trained in Montessori style but that she would look for already certified teachers who were willing to be trained.

The district wants the school to clearly define how it will measure student progress.

Montessori education usually targets preschool and elementary students. The staff told the board that there is little research to support how successful that method of teaching is with older students. The district said it would like to see how well other Montessori schools that target middle school students are doing.

The application does not indicate how the curriculum would apply to special education students.

The application does not have internal controls to make sure the school is protected from embezzlement.

Herrick said she would address the district's concerns by making the necessary changes in her application. The application is on the board's Monday agenda for discussion and possible approval.

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