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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Montessori charter school to open in Manchester this fall

MANCHESTER – The state’s first public Montessori charter school will open this fall in Manchester, where students will be able to learn through a hands-on curriculum based on choice and discovery.

Mill Falls Charter School plans to open in September with an enrollment of about 90 students. The school will start out serving students in kindergarten through third grade, but there are plans to expand to sixth grade.

Meryl Levin, the school’s parent founder and chair of the board of trustees, said classrooms will include a standalone kindergarten and mixed-age classrooms for grades 1-3, which coincides with the tenets of the Montessori method.

“It works to develop the whole child,” Levin said. “Emotional and social growth is nurtured alongside academic growth. It’s a tried and true practice, used all around the world to reach and teach children. It makes for lifelong learners.”

The Montessori teaching method is hands-on, Levin said. Children pick what they want to learn from a variety of options, and the teacher circles the classroom to observe the work and guide a student through the learning process.

No matter the student’s choice, each has a set of goals to complete by the end of every week, Levin said.

“The teachers lead, guide and conduct a lot of observation,” Levin said.

The children also develop grace, courtesy and respect for one another through multi-age classrooms and a diverse student body, Levin said.

Because public charter schools are open to all New Hampshire students, the school will be an option for parents in the Nashua area who would be willing to provide transportation. Charter schools are publicly funded, and there is no tuition.

If more than 90 students apply for enrollment, as school leaders expect, there will be a public lottery on March 15.

Two information sessions are slated for this week for parents interested in learning more about the school. The first will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Manchester City Library, with another scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Eileen Phinney Multicultural Center. Saturday’s event will be held in English and Spanish.

Founding parents will discuss the Montessori method, the goals and mission of Mill Falls, the New Hampshire charter school model and the enrollment process.

A “Montessori Teach-In” is planned for 10 a.m. Feb. 11 at the Puritan Backroom Conference Center to give parents a chance to talk about what goes on in the Montessori classroom.

The application period will begin this week, with applications due by March 6. Application materials will be available this week on the school’s Web site, www.millfallscharterschool.org.

Expansion to sixth grade is planned after the first two or three years. Enrollment is planned to be at 220 students by 2015.

The school’s location in Manchester hasn’t yet been determined, but Levin said the deal is close to finished and the location will be accessible off the highway for out-of-city students. Students living in Manchester will have bus transportation provided by the Manchester School District.

Levin said many parents drive their children 25-30 miles to attend private or charter schools; she expects the same will be true for Mill Falls and has received e-mail inquiries from people as far away as the Seacoast.

The charter school is in the process of hiring administrators and teachers through a national search.

Charter schools in New Hampshire are funded by the state Legislature after a school’s charter has been approved, but the schools also conduct fundraising to create a sustainable education model, Levin said.

“We get about half of what a traditional public student would have, so it’s an exciting process, but we’re also in a perpetual state of fundraising,” she said.

The Mill Falls charter was approved by the state Department of Education in March 2011 with a five-year contract. It’s the first public Montessori school in New Hampshire, but Levin said there are about a dozen private Montessori programs in southern New Hampshire.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).