Friday, May 10, 2013

Charter school plan gains momentum

Board considering proposal from The Mountain School

Express Staff Writer

Mary Gervase

    A petition to form a new state-funded charter school in Blaine County has passed a “sufficiency review” by the Idaho State Department of Education and has now been submitted to the Blaine County School District board of trustees for its consideration.
    Supporters of forming the Syringa Mountain School near Bellevue would prefer that the district approves the petition, but school board approval is not mandatory. If the district declines, the decision can be appealed to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission for a final determination.
    If ultimately approved, the Syringa Mountain School would replace the private Mountain School, most likely at the same location near Bellevue. One way or another, The Mountain School intends to close in the spring of 2014.
    Syringa Mountain School supporters intend that the new charter school would open in the fall of 2014.
    The Syringa Mountain School would utilize the same Waldorf education teaching methodology now used at The Mountain School. The Waldorf methodology is best described as a “holistic” approach to education, viewing child studies as an art and presenting subject matter in a way intended to parallel a child’s experiences. In addition to basic academics, The Mountain School and other Waldorf schools throughout the world emphasize “educating the heart, head and hand,” sustainable living, gardening and farming, minimal use of technology and experiential learning.
    In Idaho, state-funded charter schools began forming in 1998, the year the Idaho Legislature approved the Public Charter School Act, which authorized funding of schools that were operated outside of the mainstream school
district institutions. There are presently 44 charter schools in Idaho, but none in Blaine County.
    Leading the effort to establish Syringa Mountain School is longtime educator Mary Gervase, who is also director of The Mountain School.

The independent Mountain School near Bellevue will be closing in the spring of 2014. In its place, a state-funded charter school is being proposed that would be known as Syringa Mountain School.
Express photo by Willy Cook

    Gervase and other charter school proponents presented their plan to the district board of trustees at a special meeting on April 25. Gervase asked the board to consider two possibilities—one that the school district adopt the Syringa Mountain School as a magnet school for Waldorf teaching methods within the district, or another that the district authorize formation of the charter school.
    At the meeting, Gervase praised the School District for being “innovative in education” and said establishment of a Waldorf-methods school would be an “existing fit within district core values.”
    She said the Syringa Mountain School would offer “increased learning opportunities” and “expanded choices to parents and students.”
    “It’s just really exciting that Waldorf education is the fastest growing independent educational movement in the world,” Gervase said. “They’re popping up everywhere.”
    Currently there are about 1,000 Waldorf schools in 91 countries, including more than 200 in the United States. Some are private schools and some are publicly funded.
    If established, the Syringa Mountain School intends to have an initial population of 165 students grades K-5. Later, the school would be expanded to include grades 6-8.
    Michelle Clement Taylor, school choice coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Education, attended the April 25 meeting. She said school districts are often against forming charter schools because it takes funding away from the districts.
    “What we’ve seen were the biggest challenges are when there’s not cooperation between the district and the charter school,” Taylor said, adding that charter schools tend to be more successful when authorized by a school district.
    School Board Chairman Steve Guthrie, who visited The Mountain School earlier that day, said: “I saw wonderful things going on. We want you to be successful, but we do have to ask tough questions and sometimes it comes down to money.”
    District Superintendent Lonnie Barber also expressed concerns about a funding loss for the district, speculating that the majority of the charter school students would be taken from the district.
    “That’s 120 kids that take $5,000 each from the School District,” Barber said.
    Consideration of authorizing formation of the charter school is listed as an action item on the agenda for the May 14 school board meeting.

Terry Smith:

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