A dozen parents and local educators want to open a new charter school in Beaufort County to meet what they say is a growing demand for alternatives to traditional public schools.
If approved, the school would start with first through ninth grades, with a new grade added each year until 12 grades are offered, according to the application for Lowcountry Montessori School in Beaufort.
"Lowcountry Montessori School is committed to creating environments that inspire children to become lifelong learners and creative problem-solvers for the 21st century," said E.C. Montessori teacher Amy Horn, who is leading the charge for the new school.
The proposed charter school is one of 19 applicants for the 2014-15 school year. The Beaufort school would be sponsored by the statewide S.C. Public Charter School District, not the Beaufort County School District. An advisory committee and the state charter-school district still must approve the application.
Horn and other Beaufort County educators say there is substantial demand for another charter school in the area, reflected by long waiting lists at local charter schools and a public Montessori program.
Riverview Charter School in Beaufort has a waiting list of more than 630 students. Bridges Preparatory School in Beaufort has a waiting list of about 150 students and, the public Montessori magnet school at Beaufort Elementary has more than 50 students on a waiting list, Horn said. That program will expand to include upper-elementary grades next school year because of interest from parents, according to school officials.
"I think parents want something different than the traditional public school and want to be able to have more of a voice," said Ivie Szalai, chairwoman of Bridges Preparatory's school board.
Charter schools are public schools that must meet all state and federal standards but have more independence than traditional public schools. They have their own governing boards of parents, educators and community leaders, and control their finances and curriculum. More than 19,600 students are enrolled in South Carolina's 53 public charter schools.
Charter schools that organize under their local elected school board receive money raised through local property taxes. Riverview Charter School is chartered through the Beaufort County School District.
Schools organized under the statewide district, including Bridges Preparatory and Royal Live Oaks Academy of the Arts & Sciences in Hardeeville, receive state funding.
Charter schools receive no public money for buildings or transportation, and have to find their own space and raise money to pay for furnishings.
The proposed Beaufort charter school will be based on the Montessori method, which emphasizes a hands-on, "discovery approach" in multi-aged classes. Students work at their own pace, often independently. Montessori teachers are trained to guide students to explore their surroundings and help them think creatively, Horn said.
"Our mission as educators and parents is to foster independent, well-rounded, academically prepared and responsible citizens," she said.