A Montessori charter school will open in a vacant El Dorado Hills campus despite opposition from a number of parents in the Blackstone neighborhood who held out hope that a traditional elementary program would open at the site.
Buckeye Union School District trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to allow Charter Montessori to open next year at the Valley View Elementary campus in a controversial move that drew an opposing petition with more than 700 signatures.
For the last four years, Valley View Elementary has remained vacant after development dried up during the recession in the surrounding neighborhood south of Highway 50. The district said that left Valley View perennially shy of enough families to operate a school that needs at least 150 students to open.
Since July 2013, Buckeye district offices have operated in a wing of the campus, said Assistant Superintendent Jackie McHaney.
“To date, we simply haven’t had the student population to open the school,” she said. “Every year we look at it. This year we looked at it again.” The school has room for up to 700 students.
This time, the district also explored moving Charter Montessori to the empty El Dorado Hills campus from a Cameron Park school site where it shares space with Blue Oak Elementary. Charter Montessori has 280 students, said Principal Paul Stewart.
The proposal drew fierce opposition from hundreds of Blackstone residents. More than 700 signed a petition in opposition to the move and challenged the district’s descriptions of the cost savings by embracing the charter move.
“It’s extremely disappointing and very one-sided,” said Rachel Wyatt, who said she had hoped to send her 5-year-old son to a Valley View traditional school next year. Her home helped finance the Mello Roos bonds to build the school, she said. And the campus is within walking distance.
Wyatt and other opponents said Blackstone residents had only a month to demonstrate that they could rally the minimum 150 students to register for the traditional school. Ninety-four signed up in January, district officials said. But Wyatt said that by Wednesday night, more than 150 had done so.
Bob Hendricks, whose 6-year-old grandson travels 4 miles each day to William Brooks Elementary on the opposite side of Highway 50, would have been able to walk to Valley View. But, he said, the charter school has performed worse on state math tests than other schools in the district.
Based on 2016 state data, 73 percent of students at Brooks Elementary met or exceeded math standards, compared to a 62 percent average for the district and a 57 percent mark for Charter Montessori.
Brooks has less poverty than Charter Montessori – only 7.5 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals, compared to 18.4 percent at the Montessori school, according to state data.
Hendricks said parents are also worried that Valley View, as a “commuter school,” would not benefit home values as much as a strong neighborhood campus would.
But Mysti Freyenberger, who plans to send her 3-year-old child to Charter Montessori in the future, said she was happy with the board’s decision. The school, she said, offers both a Montessori and traditional education.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” she said. “It has a traditional curriculum. The only difference is they brought in Montessori philosophy.”
Stewart, principal for both the Charter Montessori and Blue Oak Elementary, described the Montessori program as one that “supports the development of creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills” and emphasizes “social skills such as grace and courtesy.”
On the testing question, he said students have shown gains. And he said he expects the school will continue to show improvement “commensurate with our highest performing schools.”
He said the first day of Montessori school for the Valley View campus will be Aug. 9, and the school should have about 350 enrolled from transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. Over the next two years, the school will grow to include seventh- and eighth-graders.
Stewart said most Montessori students now come from Cameron Park, with additional students attending from throughout the county and from Folsom. At the new location, he said, he expects most students will attend from Cameron Park and El Dorado Hills.