Another school year, and with it comes change

Courtesy of the Lady’s Island Business Professionals Association newsletter

Lady’s Island is privileged to have three private schools that have, over the years, made the changes necessary to survive and continue preparing students for success. Beaufort Academy has served the community since 1965, E. C. Montessori has been in operation since 1973 and St. Peter’s Catholic School since 1992. One out of every two children who attend private schools in northern Beaufort County attends one of these schools.  However, in spite of their past successes and superb reputations, the future will bring challenges.

The Census Bureau released a report in January that said, “Private school enrollment has declined during the first decade of the 21st century, a phenomenon observed in multiple surveys.”  As to the cause of this decline they indicated that “the data does not support the explanation that the economic recession started the decline in private school enrollment. However, there is some evidence that growth in the charter school movement has contributed to it.”

Another study by the Rand Corporation estimated that about 8% of new charter schools students were attracted from private schools. With two charter schools (Riverview and Bridges Preparatory) open for business this school year and a third (Lowcountry Montessori) approved to open in 2014, are these charter schools perceived as a threat to the local private schools?

When asked about the impact of the introduction of a public Montessori school (Beaufort Elementary) and the anticipated impact in 2014 of a charter Montessori school, Ms. Laura Lopresto-McKeown, educational director of E.C. Montessori pointed out that E.C. Montessori has served the educational needs of the children and parents of northern Beaufort County for the last 40 years. She said “One of the keys to the success of the school over the years is its flexibility in responding to the needs of the children of the community,” she said. “Hopefully, the two new public Montessori schools will be extremely successful and allow E.C. Montessori to emphasize a pre-school (18 months to 6 years of age) program. It would be a win-win for the children of the community in every respect.”

In response to a request for her thoughts on the future challenges faced by private schools, Ms. Julia Stewart Corner, head of school at Beaufort Academy, stated that “Beaufort Academy will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. That is 50 years of fulfilling our mission to send 100% of our graduates to the four-year college of their choice. This past year our graduates received financial assistance, scholarships and awards towards college tuition of over $3 million, which is a good return on investment for all the dedicated parents who have entrusted their children to us. While each new school in Beaufort County brings its own new mission, it will not impact the mission of Beaufort Academy which has been and will continue to be college preparation for all of our students. We will also continue to emphasize our core values of Integrity, Respect, Intellect, Leadership, and Pride. These values have served Beaufort Academy well for almost half of a century and although changes are always necessary to meet the challenges of a modern world, Beaufort Academy will continue preparing its students for these challenges for many years to come. The faculty and staff, past and present, are incredibly proud of the decades of BA alumni who have gone on to be leaders both in Beaufort and in communities all over the world.  Our BA family enjoys every moment of watching both alumni go on to be successful, and current students flourish.”

When asked for his opinion as to the anticipated impact on St. Peter’s Catholic School with the introduction of two local charter schools, Principal Joe Benning stated, “St. Peter’s Catholic School has survived 22 wonderful years, providing a high-quality Catholic education in Northern Beaufort County.  The opening of Riverview and now Bridges Preparatory has had a definite effect on our enrollment.  With the tough economic environment our area has experienced since 2008, it is a difficult decision for parents to choose to pay tuition even for an exceptional program such as ours for their elementary age children.  However, we feel that our high standards and Christian faith-based program will allow us to continue to prosper.”

The private schools on Lady’s Island have a long and well established history of adapting to the challenge of changing times while continuing to offer a quality education. Charter schools throughout the United States have received mixed reviews but a great deal of political support at this time. Hopefully, the new charter schools established in Beaufort County will be extremely successful and offer students a high quality public education.  However, there is no question that the three private schools on Lady’s Island will continue to do what they have done for many years — provide the children of this community a quality education.

Editor’s Note: The Census Bureau study referred to in the above article is The Decline in Private School Enrollment by Stephanie Ewert of the Social, Economic and Housing Division dated January 2012 and available online. 

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