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Frederick charter school is in second year

October 26, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Maryland's first charter school started in Frederick before the state had a statute providing for them.

A group of parents approached the Frederick County Board of Education to start a school using the Montessori method of instruction, said Ron Peppe, board president.

Montessori schools put more emphasis on analytical thinking and hands-on learning experiences than on memorization and repetition.

Monocacy Valley Montessori School is in its second year of operation, and Peppe said so many applications were received that students had to be turned away. Once all its programs are in place, Peppe said the school will accommodate about 400 children.

Peppe said the School Board funds the school at the same per-student rate as other schools, but does not provide the Monocacy Boulevard building and does not provide transportation. For that reason, Peppe said, fears that the school would be diverting money from other schools in the system had been unfounded.

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"We actually came out ahead," he said.

Students must meet the same standards as students in other schools, and the School Board gets regular reports on their progress, he said. The school's operations are monitored by a governing board of parents.

"They're still public schools, and they're still accountable," Peppe said.

Though the school went through some growing pains in its first year, he said, this year everybody seems happy.

Nevertheless, he said the concept of a charter school doesn't appeal to everyone - including educators.

"A lot of boards of education are not friendly to them," he said. "But I think if parents feel the educational needs aren't being met, charter schools are an option."

He said getting the school started turned out to be more work than they organizers anticipated.

"It's a serious process," said Elizabeth Donohoe, supervisor of advanced programs for Washington County Public Schools.

She said the potential for charter schools in Washington County provides more choices for families. That choice could make students more motivated to learn, she said.

"There's always something about 'choice,' too. There's your motivation. Students who choose to attend charter schools become a part of those schools," she said.

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