2017-03-02 / Local News

It’s official; S-B to let Montessori charter expire


MONTESSORI HEAD of school Eric Royston is looking for a new charter sponsor and school facility. MONTESSORI HEAD of school Eric Royston is looking for a new charter sponsor and school facility. The latest tasks for Leelanau Montessori Public School Academy head of school Eric Royston is to find a new charter authorizer and a new place to call home.

The Suttons Bay Board of Education voted 5-1 Monday, with Erik Bahle opposed, to allow the charter agreement and lease with Montessori to expire at the end of June 2018.

Board members acted after hearing comments from Montessori parents and supporters. They also heard from Suttons Bay teachers, who opposed having the public school district continue to sponsor the Montessori charter.

“This program has been around for a long time,” said Kurt Sanford, president of the Greenspire School, a Traverse City based charter school for grades 6-8, which embraces the Montessori philosophy. “It deserves a chance to find another authorizer.”

Suttons Bay Public School authorized Leelanau Montessori’s charter in 2010. Montessori is a method of education based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play.

The program had previously been offered as part of the curriculum of Suttons Bay Public Schools..

Montessori’s initial three-year charter was reauthorized in 2013 for a five-year period that expires on June 30, 2018. Leelanau Montessori leases space in the mostly vacant middle school wing of the public school.

But the relationship between the charter and its authorizer has been divisive over the past several months.

In December, Suttons Bay Superintendent Chris Nelson presented the Montessori board of directors with a proposal to reunite the two schools and create an early childhood “oasis.”

The proposal fell flat and Montessori leaders countered with a request for a 1-to-3-year reauthorization agreement.

At the public School Board’s Feb. 13 meeting Nelson sought to “reconstitute” the charter by establishing a new board of directors and designating the approved ages and grades of instruction within the public school umbrella.

The other option was to revoke the charter altogether.

Meagan Batdorff, who was involved in the authorization process for the charter in 2010, asked for an extension of the charter. She spoke of what was once an amicable relationship between Suttons Bay and the charter school.

“It’s not until the last few years that that relationship has fizzled,” Batdorff said. “Montessori is not the cause of your enrollment woes.”

However, Montessori supporters were outnumbered Monday by nine members of the Suttons Bay teaching staff who were also in attendance.

Secondary science teacher Jeremy Fenske spoke on behalf of teachers who supported Nelson’s recommendation to let the charter lapse.

“As a district, we can’t subsidize Montessori, we need to support our school,” Fenske said, reading from a letter provided to each of the board members. “It’s too difficult to support and sustain two elementary programs in one community.”

Teacher and recent Suttons Bay graduate Danielle Kulpa also spoke up.

“We have a competing school within our walls,” she said. “The board should support us and our students by putting their resources and efforts into our school, staff and programs.”

Trustee Steve Hall made the motion to let the charter expire. The motion was seconded by board President Thor Mikesell.

Not all board members favored the move.

“I think we should give them a 12-month window to get out,” trustee Erik Bahle said. “It would give them a chance (at finding an authorizer and facility) rather than pull the rug out from under them.”

Hall, however, said the board’s decision should not come as a surprise to Montessori supporters.

“Montessori has known their charter will expire. That’s no secret,” he said. “We had conversations with them well before they hired Eric (Royston). I was confused that they were hiring a head-ofschools not know how long their authorization was going to last.”

Newly seated board member Jen Porter pointed to staff input in voting in favor of the option to let the charter authorization expire.

“The letter from staff says a lot,” she said. “We have to listen to our people.”

What happens now?

The Montessori community is looking north to Bay Mills Community College to apply for a new charter.

Tribes are exempt from a quota placed by the state of Michigan on the number of school authorized.

Bay Mills is also said to be the only agency in the state that is currently authorizing charter schools.

“The Montessori program will continue and we will thrive with involved parents and family,” Montessori director Colleen Macdonald said.

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