District Recommends Denying Montessori Charter Petition

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montessoriOn March 6, 2014, Jonathan Feagle submitted a petition and supporting documentation to the Davis Joint Unified School District in order to grant a charter that would establish the Montessori Charter School of Davis. The 326-page document was drafted on January 31, 2014

The district held a public hearing on April 7, 2014, “to hear the Montessori charter school proposal and to allow the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed charter.” Under current law and Board policy, the Board must take action to approve or deny based upon analysis of the petition.

Staff writes, “Based upon a thorough review of the charter petition for the 2014-15 school year, staff recommends board action to deny the Montessori Charter School proposal as presented.”

In an email to supporters, Mr. Feagle writes, “Among the board’s findings are that the educational program is not reasonably descriptive. They have really thrown everything they have at us and we feel that we can provide strong replies to each of their points as we move forward on appeal should the board follow the recommendation of the district staff.”

In January, Mr. Feagle wrote a piece for the Vanguard outlining the goals of the charter school.

“The proposed charter school will be an independent charter, governed and funded independently of the DJUSD,” he wrote. “The group has developed an authentic Montessori program that meets or exceeds all of California’s state standards, including the newly adopted Common Core State Standards. In addition to a full implementation of the Montessori model, the program has innovative components.”

He writes, “In addition to a world class, 21st Century education, MCSD will be committed to achieving a genuinely integrated student population along both racial and socioeconomic lines. An integrated student population benefits the students both academically and developmentally.”

“Much of the demand for MCSD’s program has been generated by the highly successful Montessori program located on the district’s own Birch Lane campus. DJUSD should be congratulated for the quality of this program. Many will perhaps wonder if a Montessori charter school in Davis will compete with the Birch Lane Montessori program,” he writes. “If it is healthy competition, then absolutely we hope to compete. By creating a second public Montessori option in Davis, the demand for this model of education will only increase due to its increased stature in the community. And Davis will become a truly dynamic center of the broader Montessori educational community. Our children will benefit greatly as a result.”

In the staff report, the district staff writes, “After a thorough review of the charter petition for the 2014-15 school year, staff found numerous issues with the petition for the proposed Montessori charter school.”

These include;

  1. Educational Program.  [Ed. Code § 47605(b)(5)(A)(1).]  The description of the Charter School’s educational program is not reasonably comprehensive based on Instructional Minutes and School Calendar.
  2. Governance Structure.  [Ed. Code § 47605(b)(5)(D).]  The description of the Charter School’s governance structure is not reasonably comprehensive.
  3. Employee Qualifications.  [Ed. Code § 47605.6(b)(5)(E).]  The description of the Charter School’s employee qualifications is not reasonably comprehensive.
  4. Dispute Resolution.  [Ed. Code § 47605(b)(5)(N).]  The Petition’s description of the procedures to be followed by the Charter School and the District to resolve disputes related to the charter are not reasonably comprehensive.
  5. Facility Location.  [Ed. Code § 47605(a)(1) and (g).]  The description of the site and/or facility to be used by the Charter School is not reasonably comprehensive.  The Petition fails to identify and provide specific information regarding the proposed location of the Charter School and the facility to be utilized by the Charter School as required by Education Code sections 47605(a)(1) and (g).
  6. Operational Budget and Financial Statements.  [Ed. Code § 47605(g).]  The operational budget and financial statements for the Charter School are not reasonably comprehensive.
  7. Affirmations.  [Ed. Code § 47605(d)(1).]  The Petition does not contain valid affirmation of each of conditions described in Section 47605(d)(1).

Staff writes, “Based upon these findings, the Petitioner is demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the Petition.”

Resolution-Montessori-Charter

For example, in the resolution, they argue, “The Petition is internally inconsistent with respect to the number of instructional days students are to receive which results in the instructional minutes calculations to be uncertain.”

For example, “In the narrative paragraph on page 105 describing the Academic Calendar, the Petition states that the Charter School will offer 197 days of instruction with 45 being minimum days. On the same page, Table 15 presents the instructional days in graphical form by month, and states there will be 190 instructional days with 41 of them being minimum days.”

Skipping down, the district argues, “However, the Petition also states that lead teachers have “every other whole Friday for preparation, development, team meetings, and other activities of professional teachers.” The Petition appears to call these days “Enrichment Days” and states there are 23 of them. If lead teachers are not engaging in instruction on those days, then they cannot count as instructional days for purposes of apportionment and the ‘instructional’ minutes attributed to those days cannot count towards the instructional minute minimums required under Education Code section 47612.5(a)(1).”

In another example, the district cites, “The Petition does not specify whether a School Director has been hired or appointed.”

Further the district argues – perhaps ironically – that procedures to resolve disputes “related to the charter are not reasonably comprehensive.”

“The Petition states the parties should attempt to resolve disputes amicably and reasonably. While the procedure as set forth in the Petition would attempt to resolve disputes informally, final resolution is ultimately left to ‘any available remedies under the law,’” the district argues. “This phrase is both vague and allows for potential drawn out litigation between the parties and provides no assurances of finality in the process within a reasonable amount of time.”

“The Petition does not provide any information regarding its procedures to resolve internal disputes including notice to the District of any internal dispute between the Charter School and students, parents, etc., of matters within the Board’s oversight responsibilities,” the district argues.

In fact, the Petition states: “The School will not, at any time, refer internal complaints to the District.”

The district argues, “This would impede the District from properly exercising its oversight responsibilities and thereby safeguard its immunity from liability under Education Code section 47604(c). In order to exercise such oversight responsibilities, the District must be made aware of any serious complaints, especially those involving claims of discrimination, harassment, and bullying, to monitor whether they are being properly investigated and resolved.”

As we learned several years ago with the Valley Oak Charter Petition, should the board ratify the staff recommendation, the petitioners have the option to appeal their charter to the County Board of Education.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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14 thoughts on “District Recommends Denying Montessori Charter Petition”

  1. SODA

    David, what will the relationship be between this charter school and the District if it is approved. Will the school receive money from the District, etc? It seems to be more separate (in appeal/complaint issues at least) than DaVinci?

  2. Davis Progressive

    this reads like valley oak, part 2. throw a bunch of bureaucrat crap at it. isn’t there an interim path here – where they can urge the petitioner to clean up the problems with the language and resubmit.

  3. Michelle Millet

    Full disclosure, Jonathan is a friend of mine, and I have followed the progress of this Charter Application, although I have not taken a stance on it yet.

    That being said, I would prefer the school board base their decision on the Charter Application on more then a typo.

  4. D.D.

    “In addition to a world class, 21st Century education, MCSD will be committed to achieving a genuinely integrated student population along both racial and socioeconomic lines. An integrated student population benefits the students both academically and developmentally.”

    How much will it cost a parent/caregiver to send their child to this school?

  5. Dave Hart

    I think what would be helpful is a primer on the charter school concept. I believe I understand the Da Vinci school was created as a charter school by district staff. I imagine it was done as a way of providing alternatives for kids who were not doing well in the “regular” program. I guess my basic understanding has always been that a charter school can be selective of who they serve. Converting a private school to a charter makes no sense in that context because they can already do what they want. I therefore assume the advantage of moving from a private school to a district chartered school must be mostly financial. To the extent this is a financial issue, I’m very interested.

    1. wdf1

      Dave Hart: I believe I understand the Da Vinci school was created as a charter school by district staff. I imagine it was done as a way of providing alternatives for kids who were not doing well in the “regular” program.

      Da Vinci HS opened up as a regular “small-learning community” high school in fall 2004. In fall of 2009 it became a charter school with agreement from the school district (I think the term “dependent charter” has been used here). I think a couple of factors for the conversion were that it allowed the school some autonomy to select and keep teachers specifically trained to teach in the Da Vinci environment (with the budget cutting going on at the time, the bumping and seniority system was wreaking havoc with the younger Da Vinci faculty), and I think there was an eye to attracting out of town students, which a charter school can do more flexibly. I think potential declining enrollments in Davis were a concern at the time. Also, charter schools have access to certain pots of money that seemed to be ideal for Da Vinci.

      Talking about private charter schools is tricky. A number of private entities have opened up chains of publicly-funded charter schools. Some better known chains are KIPP Academies, and Rocketship Education. KIPP is non-profit, I think Rocketship is for-profit.

      I understand that Da Vinci Charter Academy is under the supervision of the DJUSD school board. I understand that a lot of charter schools operate indepedently of school boards, which can be a problem if you like to see public accountability of publicly-funded but privately-run ventures.

      1. Dave Hart

        I certainly see a problem in not having elected public oversight of public (tax) dollars however conflicted that oversight might be. That’s a non-starter for me even if Mother Theresa (or maybe especially if Mother Theresa) is running the operation. I’m okay with the Da Vinci model as long as there is broad oversight by the DJUSD.

    2. wdf1

      I am not aware that a charter school can legally select whom they serve, but in subtle ways a charter school can have certain kinds of skewed populations. For instance, if a charter school doesn’t bother to do aggressive outreach to non-English speaking parents, then their kids won’t be enrolling in the school. I have specific concerns about this with the Montessori Charter School petition, that I will post a comment about later.

    3. D.D.

      It’s a darned shame this misconception re: Da Vinci still lingers. My daughter had a 4.0 gpa when she applied to Da Vinci. She knew she could do well in a traditional academic setting. What she wanted was a school that was not so enamored by competitive sports, and more devoted to developing every student’s unique abilities. She flourished at DaVinci, and overcame her somewhat shy personality. I believe she would have been lost in the crowd at Davis High. She also learned how to speak in publc. We later toured USF. At the orientation, they asked the high school students to please stand up and state why they were interested in USF. All the students just giggled and shifted uncomfortably in their seats. My daughter was the only one who smiled and immediately rose to speak. DaVinci teaches public speaking skills, and they really emphasize its importance. They also seem to have a little less bullying on campus (my other child attended Davis High) DaVinci focuses more on young adult’s self esteem. It is a very good school.
      It is not just for students who don’t succeed in “regular” school. By the way, there is nothing “irregular” about any Da Vinci student. They are all exceptional in their own way.

  6. wdf1

    I was cautiously warm to this petition at first, but after reading their petition and watching what I could of their signature gathering process, I have concerns.

    On page 13 of their petition, it says:

    DJUSD is widely considered to be a high-performing district in the region. However, there exists within DJUSD a student achievement gap that is defined along socioeconomic lines. The district has five schools in program improvement. The schools in program improvement are five of the district’s nine elementary schools.

    There also exists a relatively segregated student population at Marguerite Montgomery Elementary school, which is in program improvement. This school’s student population is 50.5% Hispanic and 33.36% White. The district’s overall mean average is 19% Hispanic and 57% White. The average among all elementary schools is 12.75% Hispanic and 55% White. Table 1-5 illustrates this data.

    2.2 miles from Marguerite Montgomery Elementary school is Pioneer Elementary school, which is not in program improvement, and whose student population is 11% Hispanic and 60.4% White. MCSD will be located in the South Davis area and draw students from that area as well as from Solano County and West Sacramento.

    Table 3: Elementary Student Population Demographics in South Davis

    School (2012) Hispanic White
    MME 50.5% 33.6%
    Pioneer Elem. 11% 60.4%
    Total Elem. 12.75% 55%
    Total District 19% 57%

    Decades of research clearly demonstrate the harmful effects of highly segregated schools on student academic achievement. Students in the United States are more racially segregated now than they were in the late 1960’s (Dorsey, 2013; Fiel, 2013). Attending a high poverty school or a highly segregated non-white school “has a profound effect on a student’s achievement outcomes” (Borman & Dowling, 2010). This effect, Borman and Dowling found, is 1.75 times more important than a student’s own ethnicity or racial class. In other words, schools matter.

    The Montessori Charter School of Davis is committed to serving a racially and socioeconomically diverse student population. MCSD will carry out on-going, year-round outreach efforts to families in order to foster a genuinely diverse school community that cuts across racial and socioeconomic lines. The outreach program of MCSD is outlined in detail in element G of this charter document, titled “Racial and Ethnic Balance”. MCSD invites authorizer oversight of this program to ensure the integrity of MCSD’s outreach efforts.

    This passage suggests to me that a goal of this charter school is to remedy lower performance (as measured by standardized tests in English and math) by students making up the Montgomery neighborhood population, particularly of lower-income students. But the expressions used, and as well the apparent efforts made to recruit signatories to their petition make me believe that the petitioners have not fully thought out how to implement their strategy.

    First, I find it a little odd to describe Montgomery as a “segregated student population” as they have with totals of 50.5% Hispanic/Latino, 33.6% White, and 15.9% other. In most other contexts, that would look like a more mixed population. Also as the petitioners imply, Hispanic/Latino somehow equals low income. There are plenty of individuals around Davis who would identify as Hispanic/Latino, but are not lower income. It is meaningless to use racial identifiers here.

    What the petitioners should describe is income level, and English Language Learner status. For 2012-13, Montgomery had 20.1% ELL students and 33.1% free/reduced lunch (as good a marker as any of lower family income level) for 2011-12 (latest year available); districtwide there are 8.9% ELL students and 21.7% free/reduced lunch. Most ELL students at Montgomery come from Spanish-speaking families.

    Second, if MCSD’s implied target population is this demographic population of Montgomery, then I haven’t seen their outreach efforts specifically targeting them to sign up. They set up tables at the Davis Public Library, the Davis Community Church, and, I think, the Farmer’s Market. That’s where you would go to target a broad cross-section of the Davis population. If you wanted to target Spanish-speaking families, then you would show up at the 12:30 Spanish language mass at St. James Church, or hang out at the Montgomery Elementary satellite branch of the Yolo Public Library on Tuesday evenings or Saturday mornings, where local Spanish-speaking families go. There are other key places in Davis if you want to connect with the Spanish speaking community, but you have to know the community. I haven’t seen evidence MCSD petitioners have done that.

    It is a start that they translated a brief information flyer into Spanish, but a Spanish-speaking parent with little English-speaking ability will not decide to enroll in MCSD on the basis of that flyer alone. Deciding where to enroll your child is as personal a decision to a Spanish-speaking parent as it is to any other English-speaking parent in Davis. You’d like to talk directly to someone about it and ask questions.

    I suspect that in spite of the aspirations of the petitioners, the charter signatories are a cross-section of a more middle-class, English-speaking segment of the local population. And that initial cohort will tend to determine what the future demographic of that community will be. Maybe down the road the charter school would have great standardized test scores and claim victory, but is it honest to say that south Davis needs this charter school to serve the “program improvement” population but not make an effort to include them in your school?

    In the science research world, a researcher may submit a dozen or more grant proposals per year and see only one or two funded, if even that. Grant proposal rejection is just a part of life. It is extremely lucky to get funded on the first try. But what a grant writer does is get feedback on why it wasn’t funded, fix up the proposal, and try again the next go round. That’s what I think these petitioners need to do. But they need to take the time to get to know the population that they aspire to serve.

    1. Michelle Millet

      WDF1-I can tell you from my personal experiences that Jonathan is sincerely interested in serving a racially and socioeconomically diverse student population. I’m sure he would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about your concerns and would welcome your advice on how to conduct outreach efforts.

      1. wdf1

        M.M.: I can tell you from my personal experiences that Jonathan is sincerely interested in serving a racially and socioeconomically diverse student population.

        I believe it, from following his presentation in the video archives of that meeting.

    2. Jonathan Feagle

      Dear WDF-1,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. As the lead petitioner, I just wanted to chime in quickly to let you know that I agree with just about everything you have said. I might point out that our goal for student diversity is not to serve exclusively or predominately any one segment of a population. We would like to be an “integrated by design” charter school in which the student population represents a genuine cross section of an entire community, which neither Montgomery nor Pioneer do. The statement of diversity in the charter and on the website speaks to this in more detail.

      However, that said, you are absolutely correct to point out the difficulties of fostering a genuinely diverse student population, especially in charter schools. Dave Hart also wisely brings this up. It is not easy to do. Charter schools can be very good at subtly affecting the composition of their student populations in ways that are completely racist. I have seen it with own eyes and have been professionally chastised on a handful of occasions for trying to point out specific practices that did this. There are also many charter schools that do not do this. It really depends, too much so I think, on the particular leadership a charter school happens to have.

      For largely these reasons, I have suggested to the district that the charter school enter into additional accountability agreements with the district in order to hold the charter school accountable for carrying out the kind of robust community outreach efforts that would be necessary. This way, whether I am involved with the school or not, those efforts would have to continue or the district could close the charter. The district has not taken me up on this offer; not yet anyway.

      I was happy to see that you referenced our bilingual fliers. And you are correct, that is a small beginning if at all. However, at the risk of being annoying, I would like to share that it was all I could afford at the time. As a charter school educator for almost a decade, and a philosophy graduate student before that, I have not amassed much wealth in my time. And I haven’t learned how to fundraise very well either. I am an elementary school teacher who is trying to do a politician’s job and, admittedly, not doing a perfect job of it. I acknowledge to everyone that what our group is attempting to do is not a sure thing and we come at this with all manner of human flaws.

      In any case, thank you for the thoughtful comments and I encourage everyone to please continue to offer further suggestions on how we can all improve the level of discussion and action in education for our community.

      -Jonathan

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