Saturday, March 3, 2012

Buying into Montessori

The latest magnet lottery results have revived perennial questions about the popular Montessori schools, which work differently from most elementary magnets in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

If parents wait until their children are approaching kindergarten to apply for Park Road, Chantilly or Highland Mill Montessori schools, they're probably too late.  Students admitted as prekindergarteners have guaranteed kindergarten spots, which means there aren't many seats left for newcomers.

The Montessori schools are the only magnets that accept 4-year-olds, and their pre-K classrooms are the only place in CMS where Mecklenburg students pay tuition.  Diane McClure emailed to ask whether that effectively bars low-income families from those schools:  "It also has the appearance of paying to get into the magnet school."

Magnet director Jeff Linker says pre-K students are chosen by random lottery.  If they're selected, he said, income-based scholarships are available.  He also noted that the tuition of $3,000 a year for 10 months of full-day prekindergarten is well below the market rate.

Poverty levels are relatively low at the Montessori schools, from 12 percent at Park Road to 35 percent at Highland Mill.  If nothing else, pre-K admissions favor families who know the system and are prepared to seize the opportunity.

Continuing the Montessori theme,  the 2012-13 results show that CMS' recently-launched middle school Montessori magnet at Sedgefield is growing,  from 57 students placed in the 2011 lottery to 82 students this time around.  CMS created the magnet based on parent requests,  but there were concerns about whether families would actually pursue the option.  The goal is 100 to 120 students, Linker said.

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