TTUSD questions preschool’s deal with Prosser charter school
As the discussions continue within the district about the function of charter schools and how they impact the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District public schools, Sierra Montessori Preschool is caught in the cross-fire.
As co-director of the preschool, Molly Harrison works in collaboration with Prosser Creek Charter School, and leases space at her facility for a Prosser Creek Montessori-style kindergarten. In the morning she runs a Montessori preschool program, for ages two and a half to six years old. In the afternoon, Prosser Creek runs the kindergarten.
TTUSD board members and officials voiced concern that private schools may be illegally converting to charter schools, and asked Harrison to explain her program at last week’s school board meeting.
“Because charter schools work under the umbrella of the school district, the district oversees legality,” said Jayna Gaskell, Prosser Creek’s head of school, who also spoke on behalf of the program. “They were worried this was a conversion of a private school to a charter school.”
“We’re concerned because we have legal difficulties. Charter schools are sponsored by the school district – the district is legally responsible,” said board member Karen Van Epps. “My concern is if we get sued and someone says, ‘you allowed a private school to become a charter school.’ We need to make sure we’re all comfortable with how the law is interpreted.”
According to Gaskell and Harrison, the activities at Sierra Montessori are within the law. Many preschool parents showed interest in a public Montessori kindergarten program.
They asked Prosser Creek Charter School to offer the program, and because space was limited, they leased Sierra Montessori space for an afternoon kindergarten co-op.
Part of the confusion comes out of Harrison’s double job title as Trustee of Sierra Montessori Preschool and California certified Educational Coordinator with Prosser Creek who oversees the kindergarten program.
“The preschool and the kindergarten are two programs that are run separately,” said Harrison.
She said the differences between the two programs are two-fold.
“First, and most obviously, is that the co-op is a public school kindergarten taught by Prosser Creek employees. The second is in the area of academic focus. Prosser Creek requires a California certified teacher to adhere to state and local education objectives,” said Harrison.
The Montessori preschool is run based on the staff’s interpretation of Montessori philosophy which is founded on the ideal that teachers respect each individual’s unique way of learning. This is exemplified by awaiting each child’s individual moment of readiness before introducing academic materials, said Harrison.
Prosser Creek kindergartners have been exposed to specific concepts and academic materials based on state and local guidelines, she said.
So the program is not “pure” Montessori, but based on Montessori teaching philosophy.
“Of course, the kindergarten class, even though not on the Prosser Creek campus, is overseen by Prosser Creek administration to ensure the safety of their students and that educational standards are met,” said Harrison.
Gaskell made the point that the Sierra Montessori Preschool is not a private school anyway.
It is a non-profit preschool that was issued a preschool day-care license through the State of California Department of Social Services.
“Parents have the choice to make decisions for their child,” said Gaskell. “They are allowed to use various curriculums and educational philosophies. That’s why many parents decide to send their child to charter school.”
Van Epps said she is concerned because they just want to make sure the district was acting within the law.
“The laws are vague,” she said. “The position of the district first and foremost is to protect the children in the public school system.”
The board will hold a workshop on Wednesday, May 26, to look further at the concerns surround charter schools in the district, and clarify some of the confusion surrounding particular programs like the Prosser Creek Montessori-style kindergarten.
“I feel comfortable with the fact the charter schools will come to the table and talk to the district,” said Van Epps. “What’s more important than where we are right now is where we’re headed. I’m hoping that through the workshop the district and the charter can work together. We are looking to establish some equitable conclusion.”
Harrison believes the workshop will be helpful.
“The important thing is to keep the dialogue open,” she said.
The meeting will begin at 3 p.m. at the TTUSD administration office located on Donner Pass Road in Truckee.
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