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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette

Towles troubles serve as warning


An Arizona charter school operator set sights on Fort Wayne this year, submitted an application to the state charter board and quickly was approved to open a taxpayer-supported school here this fall – all without evidence that its mostly online school is sound or even that local interest exists in the Carpe Diem Charter School.

Contrast that with the dilemma involving Towles Intermediate School, a Montessori magnet program serving students in grades 1 through 8. As Fort Wayne Community Schools copes with the growing loss of funds to vouchers and charter schools such as Carpe Diem, the administration’s response is to look critically at all programs, including the middle-school Montessori program whose parents are among the district’s staunchest supporters. The announcement last week that Towles’ seventh- and eighth-grade programs will be changed to a project-based learning model feeding into Wayne High School’s New Tech program has understandably angered some parents.

Poor communication between the administration and parents leaves FWCS with an immediate need to address the needs of Towles school families, while the more worrisome problem of state policy upending local decision-making goes unchecked.

In the short term, FWCS officials should ensure students at Towles have a chance to choose the academic program that best suits them, given that the announcement comes after the deadline to request another magnet program. In the long term, they must communicate how bad policy is threatening their ability to meet student needs.

Towles parents met with Superintendent Wendy Robinson and district spokeswoman Krista Stockman on Feb. 25. While the Towles parents pushed for a high school-level Montessori program, the district officials informed them that FWCS’ high school feeder program would be changed so that Towles students would feed into Wayne instead of South Side High School.

Stockman said she wasn’t sure where the misunderstanding came, but the parents apparently left without realizing that the Towles seventh- and eighth-grade programs would convert from Montessori to New Tech.

FWCS school board President Mark GiaQuinta said he expects the administration will listen to the concerns and focus on getting more information to the parents, noting that some seemed to believe New Tech is a vocational program.

“That’s a shame, because I think New Tech is very consistent with the Montessori approach,” he said. “Obviously, we have to do what is best for the entire district, but we always listen to parents.”

GiaQuinta said the decision to reopen transfer applications for current Towles students would be left to the administration but said he hoped no one would feel they have been forced into a program they don’t want.

Enrollment figures from the middle-school Montessori program show that some parents already were making the decision to return to neighborhood schools, but the district should take care to work with those who chose Towles specifically for the curriculum and remained committed to it.

They are precisely the type of engaged and informed parents FWCS can’t afford to lose.

Parents – and voters – need to connect the dots between the General Assembly’s avid appetite for school choice and the devastating effects on public education. Losing the support of the handful of parents who understand the connection only clears the way for more damaging legislation.