Sierra Montessori Academy closing by the month’s end | TheUnion.com

Sierra Montessori Academy closing by the month’s end

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

“We are in uncharted territory because schools don’t close in the first month or two of the year.”

That’s the perspective of Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay and, according to him, also that of the California Department of Education.

“They don’t have a lot of guidance,” he said.

Lay is referring to Sierra Montessori Academy, the South County charter school which will close by the month’s end.

The school’s director Jennifer Dearduff said Thursday morning she’d contact parents about the news.

“We’re heartbroken here,” said Dearduff. “We just love our students, and we’re a family here. It’s definitely a hard time for parents and kids, and we just want to make the transition as easy as possible.”

STUDENT FLIGHT

When the 2017-18 school year closed there were 156 students, according to Lay. At that point, Henry Bietz was the director.

Then Stephen DeSena arrived as the 2018-19 school director. At that time there were 148 students.

But early on, things weren’t going well.

“We got wind that there were issues,” said Lay, who advises the charter school but has no direct authority over it. “We started getting numerous complaints that things were going on down there.”

By Sept. 21, 2018, the school dropped 27 students, said Lay. “They had 121 kids.”

Last year, the county tried to help out, urging the school to make cuts. After cuts were made, Lay said complaints started to drop, but students continued leaving. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, there were 92 students. That drop — from 156 to 92 students — worried the county.

“It’s a fairly unprecedented loss of attendance,” he said. “You just don’t see that.”

It didn’t end.

The student population continued to drop through the 2019-20 school year.

In late August, the county found there to be around 70 students. The numbers, according to Lay, “Were dropping every day.”

Teachers and aids were laid off to balance the budget, but nothing stopped the bleeding.

As of this week, there were 40 students at Sierra Montessori Academy, said Lay.

WHAT NOW?

Stephen DeSena resigned in early September. He was replaced by Jennifer Dearduff, who was doubling as director and as a teacher at the school.

She got thrust into the position “without any promise of extra pay,” said Lay. “She worked very hard to try to bring (things) back.”

Dearduff is most concerned about students who want to be part of a different school district, rather than the one they are assigned to by their home address.

The superintendent plans to work with Sierra Montessori to set up a parents night to help them find new schools for their kids.

The handful of faculty members at Sierra Montessori are likely looking for jobs elsewhere. Lay said whenever he hears of open positions, he sends them to Dearduff to send to her staff.

As for the school itself, which is leased from the Pleasant Ridge School District, it is unknown what will happen to it.

Pleasant Ridge School District Superintendent Rusty Clark said he does not plan to sell the building.

“It’s never a good day when schools are closing, because there are families that are displaced through no fault of their own,” he said.

For now, Dearduff and her staff will continue teaching before the school closes on Oct. 31.

“It is what it is,” said Dearduff, “and we’re going to do our best to educate our students who we have here.”

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey at scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.


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