School board rejects Montessori proposal at Hursey Elementary 

4-4 vote overrides recommendations of district, planning team, parents

The Charleston County School District Board of Trustees voted Monday night not to make Malcolm C. Hursey Elementary School in North Charleston a full Montessori school.

The district had originally planned to phase out all traditional classes at Hursey, but the transition stalled during a budget shortfall in the 2010-2011 school year. District officials, a Neighborhood Planning Team of teachers and community members, and the majority of Hursey parents in a survey all favored continuing the transition to a full Montessori program, but in a 4-4 split last night (board member Craig Ascue was absent), the board did not approve that agenda item. Hursey will remain a dual-program school with both traditional and Montessori classes under its roof.

Two of the three school board members representing North Charleston, Tom Ducker and the Rev. Chris Collins, voted against the proposal for full Montessori. They were joined by Elizabeth Moffly and Michael Miller in voting against the measure.

Collins, who has a child in both of Hursey's programs, argued that the dual-program setup "creates the unique culture at the school" and makes it attractive to parents who want their elementary-age children in different programs.

On the other side, board member John Barter said he had an obligation to the 62 children on the waiting list for Hursey's Montsesori program, a list that has grown every year since the program started. "Unless we're going to have every choice available in every school, parents sign up to make those choices when they sign up to say, 'I want a child in Montessori and I want another child in traditional,'" Barter said. "There are implications to that, because we can't offer everything in every building."

Part of the school district's broad-ranging Vision 2016 plan is to create school-choice options like arts-infused, Montessori, single-gender, and charter schools in each of four attendance zones (North, Central, East, and Southwest). While the North zone is home to district-wide magnet schools Academic Magnet High School and Charleston County School of the Arts, it has relatively few school-choice options specific to the attendance zone. District Superintendent Nancy McGinley has said that the North zone needed a full Montessori program to "create an option in that area." During the debate Monday night, Collins said the district should explore other options for Montessori programs in the North zone, including creating more dual-track programs at other schools.

Louise Monteith, a mother of three children in Hursey's Montessori program, asked some questions during the meeting's public-input session that will likely have to be answered by the board in coming years: "The district already spent money on construction at Hursey to make classrooms compatible with Montessori teaching methods and philosophies. If you choose not to transition the school to a full Montessori school, are you willing to repeat construction at a new location for us? Are you willing to spend millions of dollars on a new school for the families in the North zone?"


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