A Montessori Migration

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Parents, teachers, and members of the Charleston County School Board talked about the future of Murray LaSaine at a public meeting last week
A Montessori Migration           
Murray LaSaine Elementary slated as next to make Montessori move       
By Charlie Morrison
Community Editor

Murray LaSaine Elementary on James Island hasn’t performed to the level of other James Island elementary school students. That fact, in conjunction with shrinking enrollment figures, puts the school’s needs in the hearts and minds of the Charleston County School District’s (CCSD) powers that be, most notably Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nancy McGinley.

For McGinley and the CCSD School Board, the time was right to implement change at Murray LaSaine. The District’s Board of Directors recently allocated $10 million to a project set to renovate the school, a renovation that will be complete only when the school’s transition to a Montessori-based curriculum also takes place, during the 2014-15 school year. The transition would see the school become a partial-magnet school.

Nearly 15 years ago in 1998 a group of parents from the Riverland Terrace neighborhood broached the idea with County School District officials. The group’s push was roundly rejected at that time, but the move appears to have had longer-term implications than the group had then anticipated. Assistant Associate Superintendent Taylor, a long-time decision-maker with the CCSD, aptly puts the timing of the CCSD’s move in context.

“It really is timely with some money that has been allocated for renovations, that coupled with the Superintendent’s provision of offering choice in each different zones, and James Island doesn’t have very much choice at this time … all that with Murray LaSaine being under-enrolled for the several years, it all kind of came together at this time,” said Taylor.

In a pair CCSD-led meetings held over the past month, the organization officially initiated what’s sure to be a lengthy campaign to raise public awareness over both the specifics of the Murray LaSaine plan, and that of the Montessori curriculum as a whole.

In early October a contingent of CCSD officials, including Superintendent of Schools McGinley, descended upon Murray LaSaine to officially present their concept for the future facility. In tow along with the Superintendent was Ruth Taylor, the Assistant Associate Superintendent, for the Elementary Learning Community & Association, along with the CCSD’s Montessori liaison LaDené Conroy, the five members of the CCSD District 3 Constituent Board who address issues facing James Island schools, CCSD Chief of Capital Programs William Lewis, and of course, Murray LaSaine Interim Principal James Reinhart.

That the CCSD’s Board of Directors chose Reinhart to head up the school’s comprehensive overhaul of Murray LaSaine is no coincidence. The career educator had already been a leading figure in coordinating several schools’ transitions to the Montessori program, and has his standards set high for Murray LaSaine Montessori.

“When I talk about world-class and recognition, that’s certainly, I believe, the drive of every administrator. It’s not about your name in the lights, it’s about making sure you have a program that can’t be matched … anywhere,” said Reinhart. “If it can be matched, well, we ought to be matching that, because the kids’ deserve the best. They’re the future, and so we need to design things and provide them with the greatest amount of opportunities and resources to be able to meet their needs.”

Murray LaSaine Montessori would join the Montessori Community School in West Ashley, East Cooper Montessori Charter School in Mount Pleasant, Hursey Elementary in North Charleston, and Mitchell Elementary downtown in offering Montessori curriculum. James Simons Elementary in North Charleston is slated to offer a Montessori program in 2013 and in Berkeley County, Whitesville Elementary began its own Montessori program last year.

The goal in the mind of Charleston County School District leaders is to reinvigorate the neighborhood school with the fresh focus of Montessori education. By the time the transition’s complete, the CCSD’s recently finalized plan will ultimately turn what’s now the smallest, lowest performing standardized public school on James Island into a fully functioning, fresh-faced facility molded to match its new curriculum, that of the increasingly popular Montessori education model. Principal Reinhart remains humble in his expectations for the facility. “This project won’t be a full tear-down and rebuild, but $10 million dollars does get you somewhere,” he says.

For more information on the CCSD, Murray LaSaine Elementary School or the Montessori partial-magnet program should visit the CCSD’s website at www.CCSDSchools.com or give the organization’s Montessori liaison, LaDené Conroy, a call at (843)720-0824.

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