Montgomery’s first charter school operates under the school board’s radar -- Gazette.Net


Community Montessori Charter School faced an initial rejection and then much scrutiny from Montgomery County school board members two years ago when applying to be the first public charter school in the county.

Yet in its first school year, the school has had little oversight by school board members. It lacks a certified principal. And the building does not meet all federal and local building and health codes.

The Montgomery County Board of Education has not received an update at a meeting about the school’s operations since approving its application in July 2011, and no update is scheduled.

As written in a November 2011 contract, Crossway Community, the nonprofit approved to operate the school, was required to work with the school system to hire a principal with an administrator certificate from the state, upgrade its kitchen to meet health code requirements, update its building to meet federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and provide a media center in the building.

None of those requirements are complete.

The school originally had expected to be able to finish renovations by August, but then had issues raising funds for the projects, said Lori-Christina Webb, executive director in the office of deputy superintendent of schools.

The charter school receives funding from Montgomery County Public Schools, in a formula based on the number of students it serves each year. This year, the school system gave the school $274,242 for 67 3- and 4-year-olds in a half-day program.

Crossway Community supplemented the 2012-2013 school year budget by $150,000, said Kathleen Guinan, executive director of the nonprofit.

County funding will increase next year, as the school has accepted 42 new children for next school year out of 183 total applicants, Guinan said.

Webb said the school system has allowed the school more time to update its school building, in Kensington, which previously served students in their nonprofit Montessori school.

The school system and the school decided it was best to hire a coordinator rather than a principal, given there were no school-aged children at the school this year and the school was not serving many students, Webb said.

In an interview Tuesday, board member Michael Durso said he was unaware the school had not hired a certified principal and had not yet completed renovations.

During the application process, Durso and other school board members had intensly questioned Crossway Community staff as to how the school would be run.

Durso said Tuesday he was “guilty” of allowing the school to fall off his radar. He said the information raised questions.

The contract states the school was required to hire an instructional leader or principal with an Administrator I or II certificate from MSDE.

The school system hired Jacqueline Cossentino in August to serve as the school’s leader, giving her a title of “coordinator.” Cossentino does not have either certificate filed with the state, although it could be in the process of being filed, said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Guinan said Cossentino was qualified under school system requirements for the spot. She had the content expertise and experience for the position, she said.

“You’re trying to make it black and white, and it’s not black and white,” she said.

Cossentino is no longer running the school, as she went on leave and later decided to leave the role permanently, Webb said. Cossentino could not be reached for comment.

Since, the school has been run by Ann Byrne, deputy director of Crossway Community.

The school is in the process of upgrading its building to meet local and federal building and health code requirements, Guinan said.

An elevator is being constructed in the school that will make the building compliant under ADA, Guinan said.

The cooling system in the school is being updated to meet school system building code requirements, she said.

Renovations have been started to improve the kitchen and to build a media center, Guinan said.

After not hearing an update about the charter school’s progress at a meeting with the school system this month, County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring asked her staff to set up a meeting with school system leaders.

That meeting has not yet been set up, due to the busy budget season, according to her staff.