hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

June 13, 2012

School 'at a crossroads'

Budget woes force cutbacks at Hill View Montessori

By Alex Lippa

Almost 20 percent of the staff at the Hill View Montessori Charter School will not be returning next fall, and parents are raising questions about the leadership of the school.

Hill View Executive Director Ruthann Goguen said five staff members have elected not to return for the 2012-13 school year and five other staff members have not been offered a contract for next year.

Some of the positions will be filled, but the school will be operating with five fewer teachers next year. That means five classrooms that now have two teachers each will instead have one teacher and an instructional assistant.

Goguen said that the school, which has just over 50 staff members, has had to deal with budget problems in her first year in charge of the school. Midway through the year, three employees had to be laid off.

"It's been a hard ride," said Goguen. "Myself and the board of trustees had a lengthy list of items to approve. We need to make sure that we focus on teaching and learning. Our school is at a crossroads, and we need to create a better culture."

The budget troubles are also forcing the school to cut back on the duties of the instructional assistants. The assistants will still work the same number of classroom hours, but workshops and assistance offered before and after regular school hours won't be required so the assistants will receive a lower salary.

Montessori schools typically rely on at least two people in each classroom. Kids often stay with the same teachers for multiple years and develop a strong relationship with them. Children are taught in mixed-age classrooms, with assignments based on their skill level.

At Community Partnership meeting last week, parents said they were upset at the way the school handled the news that some teachers would not be returning, saying they should have heard it first from the administration, not their children.

Goguen acknowledged that communication with parents needs to be improved during the next school year.

Parents also said they were concerned the administration was not making the children and their teachers their number one priority.

"This is a school, not a business," said Eliot Laracuente, a parent of children at the schools. "The situation of teachers leaving the schools is kind of shocking to me. There is a lot of value in having two teachers in a classroom. I wonder how having just a teacher and an assistant in the classroom will impact the education of the children."

Parents also questioned Goguen's lack of Montessori experience. She was hired in August after serving as district administrator of curriculum and accountability for the Groton Public Schools. She did not have any Montessori experience prior to taking the job at Hill View. Goguen said that there is money in the budget for her to attend a Montessori Leadership Conference this summer.

"It is a priority for me to be as highly trained in Montessori education as possible," said Goguen.

Goguen said that there were several reasons the budget is significantly lower than in years past. Hill View estimated it would receive $85,000 in private grants but received only $60,000 - $45,000 from the Amelia Peabody foundation and $15,000 from Cabot Corporations.

More significantly, Hill View received $105,000 less in tuition money from the state during the first two quarters of the 2012 fiscal year, which began last July, than it did in the 2011 fiscal year. The numbers for quarter three and four were not yet available.

Currently Hill View has openings for two lower elementary teachers, seven instructional assistants and one middle school math teacher.

Chartered in 2003, the school has 296 students this year and is projecting enrollment of 306 in the fall. It is a public, tuition-free charter school that is open to all Haverhill children through an enrollment lottery. It is located at 75 Foundation Ave. in the Ward Hill section.