The price of change: E.C. Montessori school closes

in Voices by

By Jim Hicks

The announcement that E.C. Montessori will not open its doors for another school year is noted with a bit of sadness. The school has served as a key part of the Beaufort educational community for 40 years. According to their web site, the school was originally founded in 1973 by Mrs. Anne Christensen Pollitzer and a small group of concerned parents. The school was named Eleanor Christensen School after Mrs. Pollitzer’s mother who was a teacher. It originally served as a traditional elementary school but over the years transitioned into a Montessori curriculum, and in 1981 changed its name to E. C. Montessori. Located in the city of Beaufort, its student population reached the point of needing additional space at which time the school relocated to Lady’s Island.

In the past, the education offered by E. C. Montessori School was unique and parents desiring their children to be educated in a Montessori type of environment were attracted to the school. Over the last few years two things have occurred that added stress to all local private schools and to some degree public schools.

The first is the movement toward charter schools, which are funded with tax dollars but allowed more flexibility in their operation than normal public schools. The second thing that has challenged private schools is the movement toward providing each public school a specific area of emphasis and through a magnet or school of choice program providing parents greater latitude as to which school their child attends. Specifically affecting E. C. Montessori is the fact that last year Beaufort Elementary School offered a Montessori curriculum for grades 1 through 3, and this coming year will extend the curriculum to grades 4 and 5. Throughout the U.S. there are 100 public schools offering a Montessori style education and 17 of these are located in South Carolina. This fall, the Lowcountry Montessori School, a state chartered public school, will open its doors offering a Montessori style education for grades 1 through 9.

As can be seen, parents desiring their child to attend a Montessori school are now faced with either paying for their child to attend a private school (E.C. Montessori) or attending a public school offering the same thing at no extra cost.  It should come as no surprise that E.C. Montessori has been faced with tough choices as it saw its enrollment go from 135 students in 2010 to less than 50 students this year.

The parents, educators and politicians who enthusiastically believe that charter schools are the answer to improving our schools are to be commended for their efforts to offer alternatives to traditional public education. The Beaufort County School District is to be commended for taking the initiative and trying new concepts such as schools of choice, magnet schools and district sponsored charter schools (Riverview). Understanding that change is necessary in a fast-moving world and that we all are struggling to find the magic bullet in regard to educating today’s children, it is still sad to see an institution such as E.C. Montessori School fall victim to these tides of change.

To Mrs. Anne Pollitzer and the many teachers and administrators who throughout the last 40 years have contributed so much through the E.C. Montessori School to the children of the Beaufort and Lady’s Island community — thank you. You made a difference.

Jim Hicks is with the Lady’s Island Business Professionals Association.