Thursday, July 4, 2002
Photo by Andrew Scutro.
Now empty for summer, Larkin Elementary sits perched on a hill in Monterey overlooking the bay from Watson Street. On Sept. 3, Larkin will be teeming with children, the students of the new International School of Monterey (ISM).
The ISM will feature a curriculum that emphasizes foreign language instruction starting in kindergarten and highlights global perspectives, while also meeting state education requirements. It''s a curriculum that is shared among similar schools around the world, which generally educate the children of diplomats and international business people. Unlike international schools elsewhere, ISM is a state-funded charter school.
Larkin was just vacated by the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, which was forced to close four elementary schools to save money this year.
Fortuitously, the move to Larkin puts the ISM within walking distance of the likewise globally-oriented Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and Defense Language Institute (DLI).
"We''re very, very excited about this opportunity," says Paul Gaucherie, chairman of the ISM board.
In the recently concluded school year, its first, ISM held classes in Pacific Grove for 58 students. The 2002-03 school year will start in September with 120 students, though Larkin has room for twice that. There are six grade levels for 2002-03, with plans to add a grade level each successive year. Each class is limited to 20 children each. Although the school relies on word of mouth for publicity, word is out.
"The phone is ringing off the hook," Gaucherie says. "It''s very exciting, the growth possibilities for us."
The popularity of the school is being attributed to demand by parents, although funding the school has been a challenge, Gaucherie says. Like a public school, a charter school is funded by the state through the Average Daily Attendance system, in which the school is paid on a per-pupil basis. But trying to get the kind of money needed to get a school off the ground has been hard.
The ISM did secure a $400,000 state grant for implementing its education program and another $30,000 matching grant for both the Spanish program and arts instruction.
Parents have made donations, and the school board itself is responsible for raising $20,000 a year.
Last year the school ran on a budget of $460,000. With twice as many children enrolled for the upcoming year, the budget has to grow. Under its agreement with MPUSD, the school will pay $7,400 a month for the use of Larkin.
"We are a public school in every sense of the word in that we can''t charge tuition," Gaucherie says.
Just getting started was a Catch-22, Gaucherie says. It was difficult to get funding without a school site, and getting a school site was hard without funding. A foundation has just been established to raise money."We''re committed to it, but we''ve got some serious fund-raising to do," Gaucherie says.
Under the curriculum used by international schools, instruction is inquiry-based, and students learn in subjects divided into blocks. As Gaucherie explains, a block on water might explore the subject of water chemically, ecologically and artistically, and examine the ways in which water is described in language.
International schools emphasize foreign language instruction and in the Monterey version, Spanish will be part of the schooling from kindergarten on. Grades now extend from K-5, but plans are to grow gradually to K-12.
Most of the 1,200 international schools around the world are privateISM is the first to use the charter school approach.
Admission is determined by preferences, with the children of active school board members getting the first look. After that, the children of school charter members are reviewed, followed by siblings of current students, then children in the MPUSD.
Gaucherie says students come from all corners of the Monterey Peninsula and rely on carpooling to get to school. He says some ISM parents are instructors at MIIS and DLI. It''s a connection the school hopes to make the most of.
"We''re just really excited to be part of that neighborhood," he says.