Montgomery County’s only charter school began its second school year last week with new student lottery rules and continued efforts to close its funding gap.
Community Montessori Charter School made changes to its enrollment lottery following problems that arose during the process last year.
The Kensington school uses a lottery process to decide enrollment by random selection, according to the agreement between the school and the county board of education.
School system staff stepped in to help review the lottery after the school sent out acceptance letters to some wrong families during its first lottery process in 2012, according to Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the county school system.
“The lottery process was completely revamped this year,” said Ann Byrne, vice president of education for Crossway Community, the nonprofit that runs the school.
A Feb. 26 memorandum from Donna Hollingshead, community superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools, said seven students enrolled at the school last year were “not on the lottery acceptance roster or wait list.”
Though she was listed on the memorandum as one of the intended recipients, Byrne said when initially asked about the seven students that she was not aware of that enrollment issue and she did not know any student who did not go through the lottery process.
She added that the process has undergone changes, including technical ones, with the assistance of the school system.
Tofig said in an email Aug. 27 that it was his understanding that the school said seven students were enrolled from the wait list but that the names could not be verified on the school system’s student database.
School system staff “were more heavily involved in the lottery process this year and these types of issues should not continue to be a problem,” he said in the email.
He added the school system will continue to work with the charter to identify potential improvements for the 2014-2015 school year lottery.
During its first year, the school’s student body consisted of roughly 70 children ages 3 and 4. About 104 students ages 3, 4 and 5 attend the school this academic year.
Another issue facing the school is its ability to raise enough funds to complement money the county school system allocates for the school.
The school does not receive any school-system funds for its 3-year-old students and only receives funds for some of its 4-year-olds who are income eligible. It also will need to raise roughly $150,000 for the 2013-2014 school year, according to Bowers.
As of Aug. 27, Crossway Community still was working toward its fundraising goal of $150,000 for last year’s budget, according to Kathleen Guinan, the nonprofit’s CEO.
“It’s a slow process, but we’re on the right track,” Guinan said.
Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park said during a July 22 meeting of the council’s education committee she had heard from parents who felt pressured to help raise the money.
Yet Liz Fisher — whose 4-year-old daughter is entering her second year in the charter school — said she has had a different experience when it comes to what is asked of parents.
“I’ve never felt like they were expecting us to make up that difference,” Fisher said.
While “a lack of communication” has frustrated some parents, she said, she doesn’t think the school is trying to hide anything from or mislead parents.
Fisher said she knows the school’s administrative side needs to improve, but is happy with the quality of education.
“I certainly wouldn’t keep my child someplace where I thought the education was compromised,” she said.
Parent Radha Nandagopal, who described the charter school as “experimental,” also said she’s “never felt pressure to fundraise” and she has seen parents participate in fundraising activities similar to those at other schools.
“We’ve always been reassured that there will be private donations and grants” to fill the gap, Nandagopal said.
Communication with parents could improve, she said.
“I think obviously the school’s going to have some growing pains,” she said.
Other parents are more frustrated with the school.
Lucy Hick, whose daughter attends the charter, said she is one of several parents who have been actively trying to get the school to be “more transparent” and communicative with parents.
For her, she said, it’s a matter of “just trying to make sure it’s being run and overseen properly.”
Hick said she had been under the impression the funding gap was larger before she heard the $150,000 figure at the July 22 meeting.
She said she also is concerned about a goal Guinan voiced during the July committee meeting — that the school plans to recruit a larger pool of income-eligible 4-year-olds.
“They’re mandated to have a free and open lottery,” Hick said.
Byrne said 4-year-olds would be recruited to participate in the lottery process, increasing the odds an income-eligible child would be selected.
Parents expressed hope for change from the school’s recently filled principal’s seat.
The school operated without a certified principal during its first school year.
Karen Caroscio — previously the assistant principal for South Lake Elementary School in Gaithersburg — said her goals as the new principal include developing the charter’s Home School Association, updating recruiting strategies for students, and ensuring the school is in compliance with the school system’s regulations.
County Board of Education member Michael A. Durso said in an interview that the Montessori charter school operates differently than other county public schools, making comparisons difficult when it comes to the school’s issues such as staffing, class sizes and the lottery process.
“A lot of it is almost apples and oranges,” he said.
Durso added, however, that he thinks the charter school is experiencing some structural and procedural issues that need to be addressed.
“This is our first venture into the charter world,” he said.