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Charter school approval urged.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - In a hearing that lasted barely more than a half-hour, supporters of Children's Choice Montessori implored the Springfield School Board to give the onetime private school a chance to continue offering a free education as the district's first charter school.

The board heard no arguments against the proposal to grant charter sponsorship to Children's Choice, which opened as a private preschool in 1993 but has operated for the past three years as a publicly funded alternative program. The board is set to vote on May 21.

Doris Towery, who has two children at the school, said the school's approach - rooted in the teachings of educator Maria Montessori - differs from that of a regular public school, giving children an opportunity to work at their own pace in small, mixed-grade classes, with older children acting as mentors to the little ones.

"I think sometimes we have kids who are square pegs that we try to fit into round holes, and I happen to have one of those square pegs," she said.

Towery was one of three parents who spoke. The board also heard from the school's founder, one of its board members, a teacher and three students.

"Children's Choice is a place where I can feel safe to be myself," said 8-year-old Carolann Cooper, explaining that she sometimes gets teased by neighborhood children but never at school.

Children's Choice sought charter sponsorship after district officials said it can no longer operate as an alternative education provider. Under a soon-to-end contract with the district, children attend the school for free through parent referrals, with the district passing along 80 percent of the state's approximately $5,700 annual per-pupil payment.

The relationship is similar to that between the district and HomeSource, a Bethel area resource center that offers classes to supplement a home-school education.

With all other alternative education providers, however, the district evaluates students already attending its schools and decides on the best placement. Because of new interpretations of state rules, the Oregon Department of Education recently made it clear to Springfield and other districts that placement is their responsibility, and that parent referrals alone won't suffice.

Children's Choice, at 5005 Main St., serves 51 students in kindergarten through third grade, but as a charter school eventually would take nearly 150 through fifth grade. Forty other preschoolers attend through private tuition.

As a charter school, Children's Choice would admit all students through a lottery, with preference given to students who live in the district.

Susan Guion, who has two children at the school, told the board that parents should have options that best fit their children's needs and learning styles.

Children's Choice, which recently received a $25,000 federal charter school planning grant, is the district's second charter applicant. Last month, the board rejected an appeal from the proposed Academy of Teaching and Learning, citing funding concerns, the lack of a facility and its potential to harm district schools by drawing off students.

No such concerns have been voiced over Children's Choice, although the board hasn't yet heard from district employees, who made up the bulk of the opponents to ATL. Officials said Springfield teachers had planned to discuss the issue at a meeting this week.
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Title Annotation:Schools; Springfield teachers will voice their opinions on the proposal at a later meeting
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 3, 2007
Words:539
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