Wikimedia

Amid loud cheers from families and staff members, the New Haven Board of Education voted to renew the Elm City Montessori School’s charter at a board meeting on Tuesday night.

Elm City Montessori School, which was founded in 2014, is a public charter school in New Haven and the fourth public Montessori school statewide. The fate of the school had become uncertain as the district searches for ways to reduce spending during a budget crisis. After representatives from the school presented at a Tuesday public hearing, the board’s members voted to recommend the renewal of the school’s charter to the State Board of Education.

“I like the school and I like Montessori and I will vote for it being renewed,” said New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, a member of the board, at the meeting. “I am concerned about its growth in light of the fiscal difficulties we are having across the school board. We are struggling across the district and the state should be willing to add more dollars to this model as well.”

Montessori schools follow a curriculum which differs from the traditional educational model in that students are allowed to choose their learning pace in a unique environment cultivated at the school. According to the American Montessori Society’s website, children work with special learning materials in “aesthetically pleasing” spaces, often among peers of varying ages for uninterrupted blocks of time.

Since opening in 2014 with 70 students ages three to six, the Elm City Montessori School has expanded to a second location on Quinnipiac Avenue that serves children up to age 12. At this second location, the school is hoping to expand even more and host students up to the eighth grade. In their presentation to the board on Tuesday, representatives from the school pitched a budget increase for potential expansions in the city.

A petition from Elm City Montessori School — featuring 452 total signatories — along with six letters was also presented at the meeting. The petition features statistics about the school’s diversity and their goal to extend their offerings to eighth graders by 2023.

“We are committed to building a school that inspires our community and helps ensure all New Haven children reach their full potential,” reads the petition on the Change.org website.

Nearly every speaker at the public hearing expressed support for the New Haven school. Though speakers mostly included parents and employees from various schools in New Haven, several students at the Montessori school gave speeches praising their school — prompting wide applause from the audience.

One Elm City Montessori School parent specifically commented on the changes she saw in her son after withdrawing him from New Haven Public School and placing him in the Montessori system.

“My son has improved on so many levels, and he’s only been attending for 2–3 months, and I see how there’s a desire for love of learning which he didn’t have in the public school system,” said parent Magaly Villacorta–Faria said. “If you don’t love to learn at such an early age, you lose the passion. I believe in the power of learning, because that’s what’s going to be a catapult for success later on.”

Other parent speakers frequently mentioned the “equity” provided by Montessori schools,  explaining how the educational philosophy within the Elm City school encourages equality and inclusion.

Board Member Tamiko Jackson-McArthur also offered her “enthusiastic” support for the charter renewal, citing the school’s anti-bias training programs as a method that should be modeled across the district.

Although Elm City Montessori parents and teachers came out in large numbers to support their school, parents also expressed frustration with the “privilege” afforded to public charter schools that serve few students while other schools are struggling for funds.

Sarah Miller ’03, a New Haven parent and member of New Haven Public Schools Advocates, said that she hopes that Elm City Montessori will partner with the broader community to ensure that their educational resources can be provided to more students.

“All of our kids need [more resources], not in more charter schools but in public schools that serve all children. Elm City Montessori can and should play a role in showing up whenever possible and advocating for every kid to have that too,” Miller said.

Several board members raised concerns about the costs of maintaining the Montessori school, but only Edward Joyner ultimately voted against recommending the charter renewal. To explain his vote, he said that the district should be cutting costs wherever possible to resolve fiscal issues. The State Board of Education will make the ultimate decision about the charter renewal after their own appraisal of the school’s budget and performance.

While Board President Darnell Goldson acknowledged the district’s $8.6 million budget deficit, he agreed that the board should look for more support from the State Government instead of making more cuts.

“I am not going to let them take this school from us,” Goldson said.

The first Montessori school opened in Rome in 1907.

Carolyn Sacco | carolyn.sacco@yale.edu 

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu