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Education: Charter school principal will make house calls

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Lonnie Yancsurak doesn’t have an office. Until the moving van arrives from California, he has a limited wardrobe. But he’s ready to start meeting students who are enrolled at Coastal Montessori Charter School and their parents.

He will meet some Saturday in a program at Waccamaw Middle School, where the charter will open in August in a wing that once housed sixth-graders. He then plans to start home visits for all of the 138 students in grades one through six.

Yancsurak was hired last month as principal of Coastal Montessori, leaving a job as principal of a charter school in suburban Los Angeles to move across country with his wife and their two children. He will work out of their rented condo in Murrells Inlet until the charter school can move into the wing at Waccamaw Middle.

It could be worse. At a start-up charter school in L.A., he held classes in a park until the school building was ready. “That’s the charter spirit,” Yancsurak said.

His focus is on students and teachers. He has already hired five lead teachers: Heather Teems, Antoinette Ursits and Sarah Wilson, who now teach at the private Pawleys Island Montessori School, along with Amber Wheeler Bacon and Hillary Usher. He is conducting interviews for a sixth lead teacher and will then start interviewing teaching assistants with help from the rest of the staff.

It’s important to get the right fit, Yancsurak said.

The home visits with students will help him gauge which of them will actually show up for class on opening day. Other start-ups have found 10 to 20 percent of students who are enrolled don’t attend. Coastal Montessori has about 30 students on a waiting list.

“The waiting list won’t exist in August,” Yancsurak said. “I need to make sure that we’re full.”

Charter schools operate with public funds, but are free from some of the regulations that apply to public schools and have their own governing boards. The $1.1 million operating budget for Coastal Montessori is based on its 138 students bringing in $975,000 in state funding. The balance comes from a start-up grant.

While Coastal Montessori board members say they believe their enrollment numbers are solid, Yancsurak noted that there is a large number of siblings in the mix. If one student gets in, but a sibling doesn’t, the parents could send both children to another school.

“We’re trying to figure out how many kids on the waiting list can get in,” said Kristin Bohan. She’s a founder of the school and served as its project manager until Yancsurak was hired. She is now back on the school’s board.

Bohan said she likes the idea of home visits. “Imagine being 6 and your principal shows up in your living room,” she said.

Saturday’s program will start at 2 p.m. Yancsurak will introduce himself and the teachers at 2:30 p.m. After that, parents and students will paint picnic tables and weed a garden. “We can’t have 100 people there and not get some work done,” Bohan said.

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