School board to determine James Island school’s future

The Charleston County School Board on Monday will revisit whether Murray-LaSaine Elementary School on James Island should transition to an all Montessori curriculum or continue offering both Montessori and traditional classes.

The question of whether a James Island elementary school should transition to a full Montessori school or continue to offer Montessori and traditional classes will finally go before the Charleston County School Board on Monday after months of debate.

The latest vision for Murray-LaSaine Elementary School is to continue with a plan approved in 2012 to transition the school to all Montessori classes over the next six years, instead of using former Charleston schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley’s proposal last fall to continue offering both Montessori and traditional classes. McGinley offered a plan to keep both styles of learning at the school after black parents raised concerns about not having a choice between the two.

The School Board’s Strategic Education Committee unanimously endorsed McGinley’s plan in October but last week the group, which has two new members, voted 2-1 to transition Murray-LaSaine to an exclusively Montessori school. School Board members Chris Staubes and Kate Darby voted in favor of the transition, saying they wanted to make sure the district was being equitable in offering a Montessori choice on James Island similar to what is available in other areas of the school district. The Rev. Chris Collins voted against expanding Montessori, asserting the district should continue with McGinley’s proposal to offer both.

Collins said in an interview that he’s worried if traditional classes are eliminated at Murray-LaSaine the number of black families at the school may decline because they either don’t understand the Montessori curriculum or they aren’t being properly engaged about how to enroll in the program.

“What the dual track does is it maintains the school as a good diverse school,” he said.

Murray-LaSaine parent Lauren Dasher, who is a supporter of Montessori, said that she hopes the full School Board will vote to move forward with the transition to a full Montessori curriculum. Dasher said since full Montessori schools are being offered in other areas of the district, such as West Ashley, Mount Pleasant and North Charleston, it is only fair to offer the same on James Island.

“It would be equal to what other areas in Charleston County have for their children,” Dasher said.

Continuing to offer both learning styles at Murray-LaSaine, Dasher said, would limit the Montessori program’s growth, which already has a waiting list of more than 60 students. Another issue, she said, is that the two learning styles are difficult to offer in the same space.

“It’s challenging to maintain both,” she said.

But Murray-LaSaine PTA President Shante Ellis disagrees, saying the committee’s vote backtracking from McGinley’s proposal is just another misstep that will hurt the school community.

“Dr. McGinley would not have apologized for a mistake had (the district) not actually made a mistake and they promised to rectify it,” she said.

Ellis has maintained the district misled members of a neighborhood planning committee that the district would implement the Montessori curriculum as a magnet program and would continue offering traditional classes at Murray-LaSaine. She also feels that parents should have a choice between Montessori and traditional classes without having to send their child to another school.

“I want to see that they keep the last promise, which is that they would find a resolution ... that involves both groups staying as a part of the school’s community and not being ousted,” she said.

The School Board will meet at 5:15 p.m. Monday at the Charleston County District Central Office at 75 Calhoun St. in Charleston.