Beaufort County charter school enrollment continues to increase

sbowman@beaufortgazette.com

February 14, 2014 

With two charter schools already running and a third set to open this fall, Beaufort County is following a national education trend.

This school year, South Carolina added 2,200 students and seven new charter schools -- among the top third in the nation for growth, according to a report released this week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Beaufort County added about 400 of those students -- or about 18 percent -- during the past school year with the opening of Bridges Preparatory School in Beaufort last fall and increased enrollment at Riverview Charter School in Port Royal, the county's first charter school.

That number will continue to grow when a new charter school, Lowcountry Montessori School, opens this fall.

During its first year, the school will serve 216 students in grades one through nine, board chairwoman Amy Horn said. The school plans to add a grade each year until it serves students through 12th grade and enrolls 369 students, Horn added.

She said she is not surprised by the growth of charter schools.

"There are those people that are a little distraught with their current situation that want something new and are willing to take a chance and a risk," Horn said. "I think it comes down to choice. People want choice for their children and want to feel like they're able to give them the education that is appropriate for their child."

In July, Lowcountry Montessori was authorized to open by the S.C. Public Charter School District. The school received so many applications during its open enrollment period, which ended Feb. 5, that it will hold a lottery for seats later this month.

But much work remains -- before it can open in August, the school must find a location and hire a staff.

The school hopes to announce the location in the next few weeks, Horn said. It will be in northern Beaufort County, so it can best serve students in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties, she said.

Lowcountry Montessori also is hiring teachers and finding a school director. All teachers will receive summer training in the Montessori method, which includes hands-on, often independent learning in multi-aged classrooms, Horn said.

Bridges Prep, which has 355 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, also has ended its open enrollment for the next school year. It received 260 applications for 80 seats, according to spokeswoman Josefina Blanc.

Riverview has about 490 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and will add 38 new seats next year. The school received 534 new applications during its enrollment period, director Alison Thomas said.

Seeing the demand among parents for alternatives to traditional public schools, the Beaufort County School District has been working to increase its academic program choices throughout the county.

It is considering expanding choices like Montessori and International Baccalaureate programs, and creating schools that serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade, superintendent Jeffrey Moss has said.

"I would like to think there is such a huge demand for (these different programs), and I think we have proven that," Horn said. "So I think that we can coexist together, and I am hopeful that will be the case. ... The more choice people have, then the better options for students in our county."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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