Selected readings on US charter schools
Located in Botanical Heights (formerly McCree Town), the charter school of 192 kindergarten to eighth-grade students earned a perfect APR score of 100 percent. Along with Brentwood, it is one of only two school districts to score 100 percent in the St. Louis region.
The school opened in 2007 with a dream not too different from that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said Principal Nicole Evans.
“The economic and racial makeup of our student body reflects the diversity of St. Louis and America,” said Evans. “If you have been watching the local news, you realize that education is the new civil rights issue of the day.”
So, it was fitting that days after the state’s reports were released, the school’s students – 51 percent white, 42 percent black and the remaining 7 percent of other ethnicities and mixed races – joined together to ring their own Freedom Bells on August 28 to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Let Freedom Ring” speech.
“I was getting a little emotional watching the kids from different racial groups, who had worked so hard together,” said Rasheen Coleman, assistant director of development. His daughter is among the school’s 53 pre-kindergarten students.
City Garden is the only public Montessori school in the St. Louis region that goes up to eighth grade. The city’s only other public Montessori school is Washington Elementary, a magnet school with St. Louis Public Schools that goes up to fifth grade. Most other Montessori schools are private, located in St. Louis County and often charge high tuitions.
The group of concerned parents who started City Garden believed that Montessori education should be available to all families, regardless of economic status or race. Executive Director Christie Huck, who has led the school since its inception, was also one of those founding parents looking for a more inclusive and progressive education.
“We are here to provide an excellent education,” Huck said. “But our loftier goal is create an environment for students where they go into the world with deep appreciation for differences and bring their cultural competence into the world.”
The founders also insisted that it be a neighborhood school, serving families in the mixed-income areas of Botanical Heights, Forest Park Southeast, Shaw and portions of Tiffany and Southwest Garden. About 49 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch – and those lunches include local and organic ingredients in every meal. The building itself is LEED-certified, or a “green” building.
The Montessori teaching philosophy is focused on hand-on learning, which makes the school look different from a traditional school.
“People can walk in our classrooms and think it looks very unstructured and that children have a lot of freedom,” Huck said. “They have freedom in choice, but it’s also with very tuned-in adults who know exactly what’s going on with that child.”
The classrooms are also mixed in age groups. For example, first through third graders are in one classroom. Many people wonder how mixed-aged classrooms can work, Huck said.
“When you go into our classrooms, you’ll see this beautiful arrangement of third-grade students teaching and mentoring younger children,” Huck said. “It ends up pulling the best out of everyone because the older children take a leadership role in the classes.”
The curriculum is also carefully planned to align with state standards, she said.
According to the new APR data, 58.1 percent of the school’s African-American students were proficient or advanced in English Language Arts, compared to 34 percent statewide.
The school’s black students also scored high above black students in other city schools. However, school leaders recognize that within the school itself, there’s an academic achievement gap between its minority and white students.
In math, white students scored 67.5 percent proficient or advanced, compared to 29 percent among its black students. In science, 75 percent of white students were proficient or advanced, compared to 37.5 percent for black students.
“We have started doing some intentional and intense work with our staff in anti-bias and anti-racial training,” Huck said. “As part of that, we are looking at the achievement gap and what as a staff do we need to do to make sure we are meeting the needs of all our children of color.”
The training focuses on making sure that the teachers’ curriculum is inclusive, along with communication among students and parents. Out of 18 full-time teachers, two are minorities. Out of nine teaching assistants, two are minorities.
Evan said, “We as educators must find a way to close the persistent achievement gap that plagues our academic institutions.”
Source: The St. Louis American – by Rebecca S. Rivas