TRAVERSE CITY — School bells will ring once again at Bertha Vos.
The Traverse City Area Public Schools board voted Monday to reopen the Acme Township elementary school in the fall of 2012, offering a Montessori and International Baccalaureate curriculum.
That's good news to Acme Township Supervisor Wayne Kladder.
"I would like to say how excited we are on the east side of the school district to hear the words that Bertha Vos might be open again. That spread through our community very fast. We were getting calls left and right," Kladder told the board. "When the school closed, on the last day of school, I was there. The flag was lowered, it was folded up, and we have that flag at the township office. I would suggest to you that when you open that school next September, you use that same flag and raise it up again."
The move to reopen the school comes four years after the district made a controversial decision to close it along with two other neighborhood elementary schools: Norris and Glenn Loomis.
Glenn Loomis is now the home of TCAPS' existing Montessori program. Norris remains vacant, but the district is negotiating its sale with a New York-based children's author who hopes to make it a community and arts center.
Bids were solicited for both Bertha Vos and Norris, but none were received for the Acme Township school.
Megan Crandall said the community's feedback regarding the reopening was overwhelmingly positive, but a few people raised concerns that a Montessori and International Baccalaureate program takes resources away from traditional programs. She said others were upset that the "traditional students at Bertha Vos weren't good enough to keep the school." She disagreed with both opinions.
"I believe that this is a way to offer kids a different way of learning. Kids learn differently, and we have to be ready to adapt to that and offer ways for them to learn the way they need to learn," Crandall said.
"We're not just opening a school to open up another school. We're not just opening another program to throw money at it. This is right for our community and right for our kids," she added.
International Baccalaureate curricula overlap in many ways with Montessori education by emphasizing student initiative and a multi-disciplinary format, but it also includes daily world language instruction and a focus on service learning.
Tim Werner is a parent of two students at the Glenn Loomis Montessori program. He commended the board for considering the reopening of Bertha Vos, but urged caution on the part of parents looking to enroll at Bertha Vos.
"It's one thing to have the bold vision to start a new program, and its another to follow through on that program and have a plan and a continual improvement program," Werner said. "Speaking from experience at the current TCAPS Montessori, it's easy to lose that positive momentum. Things can start out great, with a lot of energy, but without a plan on how to achieve that Montessori vision, things can stagnate."
Board member Scott Hardy asked if there were any measurable outcomes included in the plan to reopen the school. Superintendent Steve Cousins and others said every school has a school improvement plan, and students will have regular assessments as they do at Glenn Loomis and all TCAPS schools.
Administrators estimate that reopening Bertha Vos could cost between $650,000 and $800,000, paid for by bond funding that came in under budget. An additional $100,000 to $300,000 in operational funds would be needed to pay for teachers and materials. Administrators hope they can recoup some of those funds by attracting new students to the district.
TCAPS will likely limit initial student enrollment at Bertha Vos to 100 students, with the expectation that it will grow. At the beginning of its last academic year in 2007, 240 students were enrolled at Bertha Vos.
Prior to her time on the TCAPS board, Julie Puckett was a vocal opponent to the decision to close Bertha Vos. She said Monday's vote was not an indictment of the previous board's decision.
"I fought long and hard to keep it open, and I'm thrilled to have kids back in that building. But this is a new direction for TCAPS, and I don't want to be looking back on that decision," Puckett said. "I want to make sure it's not about looking back, it's about looking forward."