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Education: L.A. charter school principal will lead Pawleys startup

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The principal of a charter school in Los Angeles will be the first director of the Coastal Montessori Charter School in Pawleys Island.

Although Lonnie Yancsurak doesn’t have experience with Montessori schools, the Coastal Montessori board thought his experience with charter schools was more important, said Kristin Bohan, project manager for the startup.

Coastal Montessori is scheduled to open in August in a vacant wing at Waccamaw Middle School. It has 157 students enrolled in grades one through six and has 30 students on a waiting list.

Yancsurak was among about 75 people who applied to become the first director of Coastal Montessori. He is originally from Ohio and was a math teacher at Los Angeles High School before teaching at a charter school that is part of Partnerships to Uplift Communities, a non-profit charter school management company.

He is principal of Triumph Charter Academy in the San Fernando Valley in northern Los Angeles. The school has 275 students in grades six through eight. The enrollment is 96 percent Hispanic.

“In Lonnie, we found the person who had all of the attributes we were looking for,” said Joe Isaac, who headed the search committee. He is a former high school principal and chaired the state Board of Education.

Yancsurak’s experience getting Triumph Charter started in 2007 will be put to use immediately when he arrives in Pawleys Island next month.

“You have to be really good really fast,” Yancsurak said by phone from Los Angeles this week. The key to that is hiring quality staff, he explained.

There are about 1,000 charter schools in California, nearly 20 percent of the nation’s total. Triumph Academy, like Coastal Montessori, is a public charter school sanctioned by the local school district and receiving public funds. Triumph Academy also shares space in a district school building.

Yancsurak will take over management of Coastal Montessori from the board that has led the effort to create the school over three years.

“I’m extremely excited to see what he will do with what we’ve begun,” Bohan said.

Yancsurak (pronounced YAN-sur-ack) found out about the opening while job hunting on the Internet. He had been to Myrtle Beach, but his interview in March was his first trip to Pawleys Island.

He and his wife, Shannan, have friends in Columbia. “We’ve always been attracted to the Carolinas,” he said.

They have two boys, ages 3-1/2 and 2.

Yancsurak, 42, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics and “had ideas about being a banker. He was a management consultant and involved in an Internet business.

He was living in New York when the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks destroyed the World Trade Center.

“I re-evaluated what I wanted to do; something that would make a difference in the world,” he said.

That took him into teaching. His wife’s acting ambitions took them to Los Angeles.

Discouraged by high school teaching, he ended up in a charter school.

“I got excited about the charter movement,” he said. “Charters, No. 1, are about choice. No. 2, we want to innovate.”

Montessori teaching is a natural fit because “it’s completely innovative,” Yancsurak said. “It’s the individual approach everyone wants.”

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