Lowcountry Montessori options

Hursey Elementary in North Charleston offers both traditional and Montessori classes, and the district has proposed that the school only offer Montessori classes.Murray-LaSaine Elementary on James Island will pilot five Montessori classrooms this fall, and it eventually will offer only Montessori classes.James Simons Elementary, a downtown school temporarily housed in North Charleston, will offer Montessori classes to some students this fall. Students in second through fifth grade will continue in the traditional program until they leave. The school eventually will offer only Montessori instruction.Other Charleston County public schools with only Montessori classes are: Montessori Community School in West Ashley and East Cooper Montessori Charter School in Mount Pleasant.Mitchell Elementary downtown also offers some Montessori instruction, as does Whitesville Elementary in Berkeley County.

One North Charleston community is divided about whether its neighborhood school should offer only Montessori classes, and the Charleston County School Board will hold a community meeting to gather more input.

If you go

Charleston County school leaders will host a community meeting at Hursey Elementary, 4542 Simms St., North Charleston, on Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discuss whether the school’s Montessori program should be expanded.

Hursey Elementary already surveyed its parents, and 62 percent of those who responded were in favor of expanding Montessori classes. Still, only 230 parents of the school’s nearly 400 students filled out the survey.

School board member Chris Collins said he doesn’t think the results are accurate because of the low number of respondents, and he said communication with parents has been a problem.

He suggested the board hold a well-advertised community forum so everyone could have their say. Collins, who has two children enrolled in both programs at Hursey Elementary, wants the school to continue offering both traditional and Montessori classes.

“A public meeting would be very healthy,” he said. “That is what we should’ve done.”

District officials have said they can’t afford to continue offering both kinds of classes at Hursey Elementary. They say other problems include a lack of building space to expand Montessori to meet the demand, scheduling conflicts and a divided school culture.

“It’s two different philosophies, two different faculties, and it’s very hard to manage under the same roof,” said Superintendent Nancy McGinley.

One of the superintendent’s big initiatives has been creating equity across the district, and she’s working toward that goal by making the same programs in areas such as Mount Pleasant available to those elsewhere, such as downtown and North Charleston. Converting Hursey Elementary into a full Montessori school would give that option to North Charleston residents, which parent Russell Patterson said they deserve.

“Why does North Charleston have the largest student population and is the last to receive equal opportunities?” he said.

Hursey Elementary has 62 students on the Montessori program’s waiting list. Students who live in the Hursey attendance zone would have the right to enroll in the Montessori courses, but if they preferred a traditional classroom, they would be transferred to another nearby North Charleston school

Parent Donyelle Taylor said that would be inconvenient. Her 6-year-old son started in the school’s Montessori program, but it wasn’t suited to his learning style. Montessori uses a different teaching philosophy that encourages students to work independently, and teachers do more individual, hands-on instruction rather than group lessons. She said her son is doing great in a traditional classroom.

But her 4-year-old daughter is in the Montessori program and loving it, she said. If the school only offered Montessori classes, her children wouldn’t be able to be in the same school, and that might mean moving both elsewhere, she said.

Rep. Seth Whipper, D-Charleston, spoke to the board about this issue, and he said it looks bad if the board decides to send students away to make room for the Montessori classes. He questioned why the Montessori program couldn’t be offered elsewhere so the students who wanted to stay at Hursey could do so, and he supported the board hosting a public hearing.

“Why should we ever not hear from the public?”

The board plans to take feedback from the Tuesday meeting and use it to decide at its Jan. 28 meeting what should happen at Hursey Elementary.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.