- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Montgomery County has approved its first public charter school, a Montessori facility scheduled to open next year in Kensington.

The county school board voted 6-2 Monday night in favor of Crossway Community Inc.’s application to open an elementary school. The school will serve as many as 188 students from pre-kindergarten through third grade.

“We’re just really thrilled with the school board’s decision,” said Kathleen Guinan, Crossway’s chief executive officer. “Each year as these children grow, we grow with them.”

The nonprofit group already runs a preschool program at the site, and the application to expand is still contingent on some final points, including interior site renovations.

The approval marks a significant advance for charter schools, which primarily have served as an alternative to under performing, urban public schools.

County officials - whose schools frequently have been ranked among the best in the country - had long resisted charters. However, school board members more recently said a qualified charter could provide new learning opportunities and strengthen the school system.

TheMaryland General Assembly legalized charter schools in 2003, giving local school boards complete authority over whether to accept or deny applications.

The schools are founded by private groups, but are publicly funded and staffed by union teachers.

The charter application did not need approval by the County Council.

The state will have 43 charters this fall, including 33 in Baltimore. There are more than 5,000 across the country, including more than 50 in the District and three in Virginia.

The group, which educates and counsels mostly low-income families, initially sought to recruit students but was barred by Maryland laws. Though charter schools are required to make admissions open to everyone, the group will be permitted to market to students from low-income families.

School board chief of staff Brian K. Edwards said the school “does offer something unique that Montgomery County doesn’t offer now,” referring to the Montessori-style curriculum and the fact the program would allow 3-year-olds.

Mr. Edwards said enrollment will be determined by a county wide lottery but “there will be recruiting efforts to ensure those students who want to apply in fact do apply.”

The board rejected a proposal from Crossway last year. And members postponed a vote earlier this month over concerns about the school’s proposed enrollment procedures.

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