E.C. Montessori to close; building on Lady's Island for sale

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 11, 2014 

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E.C. Montessori & Grade School.

FILE — Staff photo Buy Photo

E.C. Montessori & Grade School, which operated in northern Beaufort County for more than 40 years, won't hold classes this fall, although school officials say they haven't closed the school for good just yet.

The private school made the announcement to parents and staff in May, stating that a teaching method it made popular locally has led to growing competition and declining enrollment.

The school on Lady's Island is not dissolving entirely, however, according to founder Anne Pollitzer. Its board of directors will continue to meet throughout the year and could try to open a new program in the future.

"In recent years, we haven't had a large number of students and families that kept us bustling, so the energy wasn't there," said Pollitzer, who started the school with other parents in 1973. "And it was becoming very obvious that we had struggled, and we were tired of struggling."

E.C. Montessori faced some competition from the Beaufort County School District, which began offering Montessori instruction at Beaufort Elementary several years ago and has expanded that program.

Also scheduled to open this fall is Lowcountry Montessori, a state-sponsored charter school launched by former E.C. Montessori staff members and parents. Many of E.C. Montessori's former students are enrolled at Lowcountry Montessori, according to Pollitzer.

Lowcountry Montessori will serve students in kindergarten through ninth grade and will lease E.C. Montessori's building when it opens in the fall, Pollitzer said.

E.C. Montessori also has listed its building and the land for sale for about $495,000, according to board of directors co-president Amy Pollitzer, who is Anne Pollitzer's daughter-in-law. It has not received any offers, but several groups have expressed interest, she said.

Proceeds from a sale would help the school start a new program, perhaps emphasizing its toddler education for children ages 18 months to 3 years old, or its primary education for ages 3 to 6, Amy Pollitzer said.

"We do feel like we accomplished a lot over these many years," she added. "Now we will just test the waters and see what the needs of the community are."

The school was the first in northern Beaufort County to teach the Montessori method, which emphasizes student independence and discovery in mixed-age classrooms. Enrollment peaked at about 125 students five years ago but slipped to 50 this school year.

And the enrollment decline would have continued into the 2014-15 school year.

In May, only about 20 students had signed up for next year, and that isn't enough to keep the school afloat, Amy Pollitzer said.

E.C. Montessori's tuition is about $550 per month, former educational director Laura Lopresto-McKeown has said.

"It really is so sad to be closing with all these wonderful teachers and materials, and with a program that has been so successful and long-standing, and where the students thrive," Amy Pollitzer said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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