Montessori program to expand by two classes at Hursey Elementary, officials seeking long-term solutions

  • Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 12:01 a.m.

North Charleston parents who want their children in a Montessori program got some good news Monday night.

The Charleston County School Board agreed 5-2 to expand the program at Hursey Elementary by at least two classes this fall and two more the following school year. School officials plan to return to the board soon to present possible long-term options for a full Montessori school in North Charleston.

The board’s decision wasn’t universally embraced because it will force some Hursey students to be moved. School Board member Chris Collins, who voted against the majority, said he didn’t understand why some children should have to make a sacrifice for others.

“You should make space somewhere for Montessori, but my problem (with this) is that children pay the price for it,” he said.

Elizabeth Moffly was the other dissenting vote. Board members Tom Ducker and Michael Miller weren’t present.

Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott heard about the proposal last week and questioned why current students would be moved for students on a waiting list.

It appears as if something is being taken from minority children, and that wouldn’t happen in a predominantly white neighborhood, she said.

“It’s obvious that these minority kids are shifted from one place to another,” she said. “We continue to dance around this issue. Nobody really wants to talk about it.”

School leaders promised to do their best to minimize moves for students who were zoned to attend Hursey Elementary, which is on Simms Street near Park Circle. And they said the majority of children enrolled in affected classes don’t live in the school’s attendance zone.

They haven’t decided which classes will be moved, but possibilities include one pre-kindergarten class, one special-needs class or children in the Early Head Start program.

“We spent many, many hours trying to figure out what is the most cost-efficient and educationally sound and fair to all parties,” said School Superintendent Nancy McGinley. “This is keeping the school open for the traditional program. It also is accommodating families on the waiting list.”

The board’s decision follows a failed 4-4 vote two weeks ago to transition the school into a full Montessori program. The North Charleston school offers both traditional and Montessori classes, and that vote means the school will continue to do so. Montessori is a teaching philosophy that encourages students to work independently, and teachers do more individual lessons rather than instructing an entire class.

The district wanted to accommodate the roughly 20 students on its Montessori waiting list, as well as allow the current students to continue moving forward in the program. Their proposal will cost about $220,000 annually.

School board member Chris Fraser said his concern was that the district’s recommendation only addressed the problem in the short term, and it doesn’t meet the board’s commitment to offer a full Montessori school in North Charleston.

“I’d like to know more about that because it seems to me like we’re kicking the can down the road,” he said.

The board directed the district’s leadership to come back with feasible, cost-effective ideas that would enable the program to begin expanding to a full school starting this fall.

In other business, the board agreed:

To approve the criteria for evaluating the superintendent for the 2012-13 school year.

To form a board committee to study the proposed Kiawah Tax Increment Financing proposal.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.

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