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Schools racial makeup in question

Roaring Fork School District Re-1 and Carbondale officials worry that the newly approved Ross Montessori Charter School will divide the town along racial lines.Ross Montessori received its charter on Monday, despite a letter Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig and other town trustees signed and sent to the Charter School Institute of Colorado. The letter was unofficial, as the town has no stance on Ross Montessori, but it did cite reservations town leaders had, Hassig said. The major concern was that Ross Montessori would fail to meet its goal of 30 percent Latino enrollment, Hassig said. Hassig pointed to trouble the Carbondale Community School has had in recruiting Latino students. The school has worked very hard to recruit Latino students into its school but has had limited success, he said, and he fears the same will happen at Ross Montessori.The failure to succeed on that front makes the job of improving schools in Carbondale even more difficult, he said.Carbondale Elementary School, specifically, has been under a school improvement program the last three years, because of a low accountability rating from the state.Despite the officials concerns, the Ross Montessori Charter School Steering Committee, which started the school, is confident it will reach its goal of 30 percent Latino, 70 percent Anglo. With 144 letters of intent collected, steering committee spokeswoman Carolyn Fisher said 30 percent are from Latino families and 70 percent are from Anglo families.Reaching those goals is still not enough for Hassig or Re-1 superintendent Fred Wall. I believe that public schools that receive public funds should mirror the community, Wall said.Sixty percent of Carbondale Elementary students are Latino, he said.But Carbondale Elementary Schools diversity does not reflect Carbondale in general, Fisher said. Carbondale is 70 percent Anglo, 30 percent Latino, she said.We dont want the (Montessori) school to be like CES. Fisher said. Were basing the school on the makeup of the community, not the makeup of CES.Carbondale is about one-third Latino, according to the 2000 census, Hassig said. But he said the census might not have counted the number of Latinos accurately. Regardless, he said, Ross Montessori should seek to reflect the population in public education. Despite his concerns, Hassig was not dismayed. Well deal with the hand were dealt, he said, referring to the charter approval. I wish them the best of luck, and I hope they reach the (diversity) target.

Ross Montessoris charter approval will also likely put a strain on district finances, said assistant superintendent Judy Haptonstall. Ross Montessori likely will draw students from the current Montessori program at Carbondale Elementary. Each student who leaves Carbondale Elementary will take roughly $6,000 in state per-pupil funding. Those funds will be used to operate Ross Montessori, but will leave a gap in funding at traditional Re-1 schools, Haptonstall said. Assuming that all 144 students who have submitted letters of intent come from Re-1s student pool, the district will lose $864,000, which helps pay administrative and building costs. Certainly any time you lose that money it hurts, Haptonstall said. There wont be any negative impact on (Carbondale Elementary) as far as funding goes, she said. But there will be an impact on the district, well just have to see where.Despite questions about funding and racial diversity, Ross Montessori might have a positive impact the social fabric of Carbondale.Steering committee member and real estate agent Gabriella Sutro said she hears concerns from clients all the time about Carbondale schools. She said the schools low scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests drive potential newcomers, often from Carbondales disappearing middle class, to look elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley for better schools. I dont think the CSAPs reflected the teaching thats going on there, but thats enough, to make people look somewhere else for housing, Sutro said.One more quality educational choice, in addition to Carbondale Elementary and Carbondale Community School, will help bring people to Carbondale, she said.If we have three good schools, what more can you ask for? she said.Despite differing views of Ross Montessoris impact on education and diversity in Carbondale and education, one thing seems clear everyone wants quality education. Carbondale Elementary is making significant progress toward achievement, said principal Karen Olson. In the last six weeks, 13 of 54 English Language Learners students have moved out of that program, she said.Im pretty pleased with the progress were making, she said.Carbondale Elementary and Montessori are both capable of producing high-achieving students, said Marianne Ackerman, mother of two boys, both of whom went through the traditional Carbondale Elementary strand, and one girl, who is enrolled in Montessori. Theres not a lack of good education in Carbondale schools, she said. Im really pleased with whats happened for my children in the Montessori program, and Im also really, really pleased with whats happened in the traditional program. Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 520rgraff@postindependent.com


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