Ed Board Greenlights Montessori Charter Renewal

[New Haven Independent] Ed Board Greenlights Montessori Charter Renewal

Thomas Breen File Photo

Elm City Montessori’s Blake Street campus.

The Board of Education signed off on extending Elm City Montessori’s charter, bringing the Blake Street local charter school one big step closer to winning another three-to-five-year renewal.

City school board members took that vote Monday night during the latest meeting of the full Board of Education, which was held online via Zoom. The ed board members voted 5 – 0 in support of the charter renewal, with Board of Ed member OrLando Yarborough III abstaining because he is also the chair of the board for Friends Center for Children, which operates a daycare center on the site of Elm City Montessori’s campus. 

It’s now up to the State Board of Education to decide whether or not to grant a final needed approval for Elm City Montessori — a charter school that was founded in 2014, prioritizes anti-bias/anti-racism practices, and serves 298 students out of its 495 Blake St. campus — to continue operating.

“It has, in my opinion, a very collaborative and friendly relationship with New Haven Public Schools. It does not see itself as … apart from us,” Board of Ed Secretary Ed Joyner said in support of the Montessori school’s charter renewal. Joyner praised one of the school’s leaders, Julie Webb, as a ​“New Haven education leader. Her family for multiple generations has supported the school district and she was really built for this.” 

Click here to read about the last time Elm City Montessori went through the charter renewal process.

Elm City Montessori currently serves students in classes that range from preK3 to 8th grade. Its student body is 31 percent white, 31 percent Black, 27 percent Hispanic, 9 percent multi-race and 2 percent Asian. Additionally, 6 percent of the students are identified as special education students and 3 percent are identified as students with limited English proficiency. This year, 96 percent of the school’s students are from New Haven. It has had no student suspensions since 2019.

As a local charter, the school has a collaborative relationship with the public school district while also having autonomy to implement its Montessori curriculum. The Board of Trustees is responsible for governance of the school.

As the public school district’s only public charter school, the Board of Ed is Elm City Montessori’s primary funder. This year, the city school district provided the school with $4.1 million, or $13,915 per student. The school expects its per-student funding needs to rise to $14,838, which, for an expected 310 students, should cost the city school district around $4.59 million.

The school’s charter status gives it full autonomy on how it spends its $4 million from NHPS, full control of all staffing decisions, complete control over its enrollment capacity and classroom organization, and full access to all operational processes in the NHPS like special education, human resources, transportation, choice and enrollment, assistant superintendent support and oversight, food services, nursing, and IT. 

Elm City Montessori is NHPS’s only Montessori school and its only local charter school. 

According to NHPS spokesperson Justin Harmon, Elm City Montessori’s charter term is determined by the State Board of Education in May. Typically a renewal lasts three to five years, he added. 

In a Tuesday phone interview, Elm City Montessori School Executive Director Eliza Halsey and Principal Julia Webb said they look forward to the final step in the renewal process, which will happen this spring before the State Board of Education. 

The renewal process, which is guided by the state Department of Education, began with Elm City Montessori submitting an application to the city and state school boards in September. In November, the state conducted a site visit to the school. Monday’s vote of approval brought the school closer to the final renewal stage. When asked what they are most excited for if they win charter renewal, Halsey said to continue the schools focus on ​“SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and academic growth” with students. 

Halsey added that she is ​“excited to deepen our partnership with New Haven Public Schools.” 

A Nov. 16 memorandum included in Monday’s school board states;: ​“Elm City Montessori should demonstrate that they are efficiently using district resources to provide a unique learning environment not available in other schools. Central Office data review of student level assessments and regular evaluations of the academic and fiscal programming will be undertaken at regular intervals per the agreement.” 

For the 2022 – 23 school year, Elm City Montessori has 15 state-certified classroom teachers, one state-certified social worker, two state-certified instructional coaches, one state-certified magnet resource teacher, one state-certified special education teacher, and a state-certified principal.

Several Board of Ed members praised the charter school during a discussion before the final vote Monday.

Joyner described the school after a recent visit as parent and student friendly. 

Assistant Superintendent Paul Whyte shared the results of a recent survey that asked 182 school community respondents to agree or disagree on whether the school charter should be renewed. Of the total respondents, 179 responses from current parents, students, and staff voted in favor of the renewal. 

Mayor Justin Elicker, Yesenia Rivera and Superintendent Iline Tracey also shared their support for Elm City Montessori before the Monday vote.

“I like the idea of having local community folks involved in managing that system,” Board member Darnell Goldson said. ​“And I really think because of the results that we see from that school I think we should have more of them. I think we should look at diversifying our portfolio here so that more community folks have an opportunity to serve the students of this school system.”

Watch Monday's full meeting above.