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Gresham-Barlow board approves Montessori school

Tuition-free Lewis and Clark to open in September
by: John Klicker, Adonica Marshall, left, and Daina Hardisty, who are among the organizers of the Lewis & Clark Montessori Charter School, talk about the Gresham-Barlow School District’s recent decision to approve a two-year charter for the institution.

The Gresham-Barlow School District is set to become home to the state's second public charter Montessori school this September, and the Portland metropolitan area's first.

Oregon is home to several private Montessori schools, including a number in East County, but there's only one other public charter Montessori school in the state - Ridgeline in Eugene. That's about to change due to the efforts of a number of East County parents, professionals, teachers and others who have been working for two years to open Lewis and Clark Montessori Charter School.

On April 10, the Gresham-Barlow School approved a two-year charter for the tuition-free school, according to Tim Drilling, the district's director of student achievement. The approval is subject to the outcome of ongoing contract negotiations, he said, adding that the contract should be wrapped up by the second week of May.

If the district deems the school's performance satisfactory by 2010, it will consider approving a charter for another two-year term, he added. After the charter is renewed the first time, it can be renewed subsequently for periods longer than two years, he said.

Lewis and Clark organizers were pleased with the board's decision, noting that 174 families are on their mailing list.

'We have a lot of happy families,' Adonica Marshall, the school's project director, said. 'They're really interested in another option of a learning style.'

Daina Hardisty, a Lewis and Clark board member, voiced similar sentiments, noting that the Montessori method of learning emphasizes allowing students to choose the pace at which they learn various topics. Some students thrive in traditional learning environments, she added, whereas others are better suited to the 'self-directed learning' setting offered by a Montessori school.

'This is just about giving alternatives to the programs that are out there,' she said.

The school is slated to open in September and will enroll up to 82 students in grades kindergarten through second, the women said. Lewis and Clark will be accepting applications for children who will be 5 through 7 years of age as of Sept. 1, for enrollment in both a kindergarten-age program and two mixed-age 'lower elementary' classes. Eventually, the school will go up to eighth grade.

Students from any school district in the state can apply for admission to a charter school such as the Lewis and Clark School in the Gresham-Barlow district. However, the charter school must admit students from within Gresham-Barlow district first.

Marshall and Hardisty said the school's location is still to be determined but it should be announced in late spring, along with more public meetings about the school and information about a student lottery. If one student from an applicant family is picked, they said, his or her siblings would also be allowed to enroll at the school.

Approval of the school is the culmination of two years' effort by a large group of parents, educators and community members from Gresham and surrounding areas. The organizers worked with Gresham-Barlow administrators and solicited input from the community at meetings and numerous community events.

To learn more about Lewis and Clark Montessori School, visit lewisandclarkcharter.org.

What's a charter school?

Public charter schools do not charge tuition, and their students are counted as part of a given public school district's overall student population, regardless of whether the students live inside or outside the district.

Oregon allocates funding to districts on a per-pupil basis, and a K-8 charter school receives 80 percent of the district's per-pupil funding relative to the number of students enrolled in the charter school. That percentage increases to 95 percent for a charter high school.